'Freedom and fairness': Abbott's IR pledge

Tony Abbott pledges to reform IR, potentially increasing the number of companies not bound by unfair dismissal laws

By Brad Gardner | February 17, 2010

More businesses may be free of unfair dismissal laws under a Coalition government, after Tony Abbott pledged to reform the system.

In a radio interview yesterday, the Opposition Leader highlighted the need to make the workplace more flexible and free for employees and employers.

While vowing not to re-introduce the Howard Government’s WorkChoices scheme, Abbott wants individual contracts to be brought back and for unfair dismissal laws to be relaxed.

Abbott says there will be a no-disadvantage test and employers will not be able to force employees to sign a new agreement.

"Well, what I propose is that we have freedom and fairness in the workplace but you always have to have a strong no-disadvantage test," Abbott says.

According to Abbott, the Rudd Government’s industrial relations changes have led to higher wage costs and left some employers worse off.

But unions are already campaigning against Abbott’s proposed changes, with the ACTU claiming more than 2.3 million workers will lose protection from unfair dismissal.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow claims nine out of 10 businesses will be exempt from the laws, allowing employers to sack workers on a whim.

"Under WorkChoices, many young people, women and other vulnerable workers were sacked unfairly," Burrow says.

"Now they are at risk again."

According to Burrow, the award system will be ripped apart and penalty rates will be cut.

Under workplace changes introduced by the Government, a company which employs 15 or more people is bound by unfair dismissal laws.

Companies face compensation payouts of up to $54,150 if found guilty of unfair dismissal.

The Rudd Government introduced national employment standards, a list of minimum conditions of employment.

This includes annual leave, basic pay rates and casual loading rates, maximum ordinary hours of work and parental leave and entitlements.

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