The hysterical response from several business lobby groups to the modernising of awards raises questions about whether employers are being honest about what they really want.
Ever since the introduction of enterprise bargaining under the Keating government, employers have sought a single industrial relations system and have claimed that the operation of multiple awards across multiple states was costly and inefficient for large businesses.
The Howard government - through the WorkChoices IR laws - provided an unfair and ultimately unsound basis for that national system.
Responding to employer demands, the Howard government also committed to rationalising and updating the award system (the “award rationalisation” process) but never completed the job, deciding that it was too hard.
The Rudd Labor government, as a part of its election commitments, undertook to do what the Coalition couldn’t or wouldn’t - retain and modernise the award system.
This has involved reducing more than 2,600 awards to about 130. It includes developing a single award standard within each industry (such as manufacturing or retail) or major occupation (such as nursing) that removes state-based differences in awards in national industries. In most cases this will result in employers only having to refer to one award for their business and not the multitude they have needed to refer to in the past.
Now we are well on the way to achieving the rationalisation of awards within a single national industrial relations system, employers are complaining that the new awards might impose some additional costs upon them.
It is notable that they have never complained of the savings many will get through the new modern awards or any of the adverse effects of the new awards on their employees.
Employers have also complained that they need at least five years to phase in the new awards. The Industrial Relations Commission this week gave employers a five-year period to phase in any increases in wages starting from July 1, 2010.
But employers still aren’t happy.
Which begs the question - what do they really want?
What is becoming clear is that many employers actually don’t want a modern award system - they want no awards at all.
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