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Strong economy should not be at cost of fairness

By Julia Gillard - posted Thursday, 3 May 2007

At Labor's national conference last weekend, Kevin Rudd launched Labor's new industrial relations plan, Forward with Fairness. It's a comprehensive plan we are inviting the Australian people to judge. Labor's decision to release its plan for a fairer workplace stands in stark contrast to the continuing deceit of the Howard Government on industrial relations.

The Howard Government deceived Australians before the previous election by not telling them of its plans for extreme and unfair industrial relations laws. It has deceived Australians about the impact of its system by refusing to release details of how John Howard's Australian Workplace Agreements are hurting Australian working families. There is also a complete refusal to release any economic modelling to support Government claims about the benefits of these laws.

The Government continues to deceive working Australians by refusing to come clean on how it intends to make its laws tougher if re-elected. And it is deceiving Australians with false claims about Labor's plans.


The Prime Minister and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, have claimed that Labor's proposed new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, is unconstitutional. The Howard Government has also claimed that under Labor's system every new employee will be given a union membership form and that under Labor "no ticket, no start" will be back.

Each of these claims is completely untrue. Let's set the record straight.

Labor is not re-regulating the workplace. Forward with Fairness gives employers and employees the freedom to negotiate the terms and conditions that best suit them. This will be achieved through a combination of collective agreements, awards and common law arrangements, a combination which presently covers about 90 per cent of Australian employees.

Labor's plan is based on a decent, but limited, safety net of legislated minimum conditions and new, simplified awards. Our system will not be a system that allows overtime, penalty rates and redundancy to be lost without negotiation and without compensation.

Labor's plan is not about union rights, it is about the rights of Australian working families to enjoy the benefits of the prosperity they help generate.

Under Labor, there will be no automatic right for unions to bargain on behalf of an entire workforce under our majority bargaining rules, no automatic right for unions to participate in collective enterprise bargaining, and our Fair Work Information Statement will tell new employees they have a right to choose whether or not to join a trade union. Indeed, some employers have said they are very keen for the new employees to know that they do not have to join the union.


Labor's plan is to ensure the new independent industrial umpire is accessible to employers and employees across Australia when they want information or need assistance. And despite the Government's desperate claims to the contrary, the structure and operation of Labor's Fair Work Australia will be in accordance with the Constitution.

Labor's plans to move forward with fairness have been criticised by unions and employers.

Labor has always understood that employers would prefer the Prime Minister's WorkChoices laws. After all, those laws have driven the pendulum radically away from the centre, towards the interests of employers and away from the interests of Australian working families. Labor does not apologise for creating a new balance.

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First published in The Australian on May 2, 2007.

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Julia Gillard is Prime Minister of Australia.

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