Tony Abbott said that he won’t change the Workplace Relations Act in his first term of government, and Eric Abetz says the only “tweaks” will be to regulations.
Significant changes to the industrial relations regime in Australia is possible through regulation changes, and to amendments to other Acts.
For example, the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements (HEWRRs) were regulations imposed onto universities that affected their funding. The HEWRR regulations forced universities to offer AWAs to staff, exclude a wide range of things from collective agreements and more — all through regulations.
Similarly, Tony Abbott could significantly change the Corporations Act to remove workers rights, side stepping the Workplace Relations (Fair Work) Act. Other Acts could be changed as well to impose Tony Abbott’s extreme IR agenda.
An academic from NSW goes through some of the other possible ways for Tony Abbott to strip workers of their rights in an interview with Workplace Express:
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has promised not to amend the Fair Work Act if elected, but McCallum told Workplace Express that the power of incumbency itself should not be underestimated.
Federal governments, he said, “have powers to appoint people to FWA; they have powers to intervene in proceedings”. They had, he said, a special power under s431 (which had not yet been used) to terminate industrial action.
They also had a contracting power with private enterprise, “where they can lay down who they’d prefer to deal with”.
“People forget the powers of Government, powers to appoint to all sorts of boards, powers not to consult with the trade unions about anything. These are far more important powers than changing the regulations, and in fact when [former Prime Minister] John Howard came to power he shut out trade unions from everything, and that was far more devastating than minor amendments to the regulations.”
Changes to regulations also significantly impact on unions’ ability to collectively bargain. The list of non-allowable matters is contained in regulations. Non-allowable matters are those that are unlawful to be included in a collective agreement, such as bargaining fees or environmental matters.
Tony Abbott could easily add a great number of things to non-allowable matters, restricting the ability of workers to improve their pay or conditions.