EDITORIAL TUESDAY 16.02.10.
At a time when the Federal Government is gradually losing ground in the opinion polls, Tony Abbott and his colleagues have dropped a clanger. No, it’s not the opposition leader’s remarks about women and their virginity, or even his comments about housewives and the ironing. The frenzy of mock outrage over those minor matters was largely manufactured by the media, because a big chunk of the real Australia holds similar socially conservative views. It really would have been outrageous if he had said the opposite and encouraged girls to shed their virginity at the earliest opportunity. But no, the statements from the opposition which should be ringing alarm bells are the pronouncements on workplace relations policy.
Despite insisting that Work Choices is dead, Tony Abbott and his colleagues have been wheeling out a series of announcements which would seem to indicate otherwise. Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has called for the removal of the recently reinstated weekend penalty rates. She said, “Bringing back inflexible working conditions such as the weekend penalty rate regime is costing employers more, it is making many workers worse off.” Apparently on her planet, paying people more somehow makes them worse off.
Tony Abbott has spoken about bringing back Australian Workplace Agreements, without any mention of a safety net to guarantee minimum pay or conditions. He said, “The next Coalition Government will ensure that once again employers and employees are able to negotiate their own working arrangements where they genuinely agree.” Of course the whole problem is that the contracts offered under Work Choices were neither negotiated nor were they “genuinely agreed”. Instead, they amounted to “take-it-or-leave-it” ultimatums. Individual contracts were not individual either. They were in fact cookie cutter documents pushed upon powerless employees whose only choice was to sign on the dotted line or lose their jobs.
The Opposition Leader has also pledged to once again remove unfair dismissal laws, which he says are an imposition upon small business. What he is really saying is that in his world it should be legal for an employer to treat an employee unfairly, and for the employee to have no recourse. What he is really saying is it should be OK to fire people for no particular reason at all. What he is really saying is that if he should become Prime Minister he will bring back all the features of Work Choices except the name itself.
For many low income workers, that’s not a promise, that’s a threat.