Eric Abetz and labour relations

The dog that didn’t bark in the night over the past two years has been industrial relations. Labour relations has been an ongoing sore, relentlessly undermining our prospects and ruining opportunities to raise living standards at every turn. Yet these past two years, conservative government though it may have been, other than a brief wrangle at Qantas, which could have been a massive disaster but in fact wasn’t, I don’t think I can recall a single IR dispute of any consequence.

I have to tell you that I think much of the credit goes to our Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz. In what is the most fractious part of our economic structure, he understood the necessity of working with the grain and not against it. His quiet approach allowed a downwards real wage adjustment to go on behind the scenes, with the most amazing, but largely unnoticed improvement in our labour market having gone on, even with the flat rate of growth in GDP.

Today we find this in The AFR: Abetz accused of restacking Fair Work.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz has made a series of conservative appointments to the Fair Work Commission, using his expected last days in federal cabinet to counter-balance union appointments to the tribunal made by the former Gillard government.

Industrial relations lawyer Tanya Cirkovic, a former legal partner of Liberal Party identity Michael Kroger, and Christopher Platt, who worked at the Australian Mines and Metals Association were appointed commissioners.

Both Mr Platt, currently employee relations manager at BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam project, and Ms Cirkovic have addressed the conservative HR Nicholls Society.

The last bit does make me laugh since I have also addressed the HR Nicholls Society whose main aim in life has been to rid us of the IR Commission which, in spite of the all too regular criticisms from the HRN and others, has been the main obstacle to union power in this country. If Senator Abetz is removed from the Ministry, just keep the following in mind:

The appointments came as Labor and the Greens denied Senator Abetz a rare legislative victory on industrial relations by stalling the passage of proposed changes to the federal workplace laws changes.

Senator Abetz has reached agreement with six senate crossbenchers to support changes to the Fair Work Act, including new limits on union bargaining power on new projects.

But Labor and the Greens organised a long list of speakers on the bill, ensuring the vote on the changes was delayed until at least the next sitting of federal parliament in three weeks.

[Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan] O’Connor said he would spend the parliamentary break seeking to convince the crossbench to reverse their in-principle position and not support the changes proposed by the government.

If it is jobs you are interested in and a reduction in union power, that is the way to have done it. It will be a sorry day for us all if Eric is removed from cabinet and IR is parcelled out to someone less skilled than he is.

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39 Responses to Eric Abetz and labour relations

  1. Sinclair Davidson

    The Qantas dispute was in 2011.

  2. Roger

    +1, Steve.
    Anyone who thinks Abetz is dead wood hasn’t been paying attention these last two years.
    It would be even more unjust if he was ousted from his position as payback because he supported Abbott. This will be a test for Turnbull.

  3. JMH

    I’ll say one thing for Senator Abetz. He replies to correspondence. Personally.

  4. Judith Sloan

    Hmmm… Grocon, Chevron, Boral. But why go out on strike when you can just extort.

    Recent appointees all clubbers. President of FWC very pleased.

    Abetz –
    Absolutely hopeless. Not one single achievement. Good riddance, Erica A

  5. Tim

    His public service wage policy seems to be on track – most of the APS has gone 2 years now without a pay-rise, and apparently no end to the wage freeze in sight.

  6. You and Eric make a fine pair, Steve.

  7. From where I sit, as one of the big employers in the nation (not big business, which employs a fraction of the workforce, and by it’s conduct ruddy welldeserves unions inflicted upon it) the Fair Work Act, and the Abbott govt’s total and complete inaction on it, has been the biggest impediment to progress in this nation.

    Words aren’t printable to express my opinion of the spineless LNP govt on this matter.

  8. Sinclair Davidson

    When you have a dog that doesn’t bark, you get a new dog.

  9. Rabz

    Yet another failure of Abbott’s – in one of his many pre-election panic attacks he promised to leave the IR framework untouched in his first term, because the ghost of Workchoices had been sighted. Somewhere.

    Both the Fair Work Act and the FWC remain a strong brake on the economy.

    Turnbull of course, will be fine with the status quo.

  10. A year ago I wrote to Brandis to suggest they tinker a little, say inject a “costs penalty” (one that is enforced) for vexatious, frivolous or malicious claims that don’t get up, or more commonly, aren’t pursued.

    In reply came Form letter “D” thanking me for my interest & explaining how hard the government is working for all Australians and it is input from people like me that… blah blah blah.

    At that moment I became an anti-Liberal campaigner. It was their first chance in 20 years in getting my vote, & Brandis blew it.

  11. Baldrick

    The Libs have never made up for the loss of losing Nick Minchin and Barnaby Joyce from the senate, but Minchin most of all.

  12. Ant

    “…in one of his many pre-election panic attacks he promised to (fill in the blank)”.

    Therein could be found his biggest failure.

    Silly and unnecessary promises not to frighten the horses set him up for valid accusation of lying and left him hamstrung, preventing him from giving the leftist pieties of the Gillard government both barrels.

  13. Gavin R Putland

    The biggest offenders in raising labour costs for employers are taxes that cause the cost of hiring a worker to exceed the worker’s take-home pay. How to the regular contributors to this blog propose to get rid of such taxes?

  14. Lem

    I’ll say one thing for Senator Abetz. He replies to correspondence. Personally.

    Did he resolve the issues you wrote to him about?

  15. yackman

    very few in Parliament on the Coalition side would have any practical experience of labour relations in industry and if they do it is likely to be from the legal side. (eg Peter Costello). As a retired plant manager (10 years ago) for a former ASX top 20 company my experience says that at the coal face there is no point going out on a limb and you choose only the fights you will be backed up on and dont rely on legislative assistance.
    An exception was the changes Jeff Kennett brought in with respect to Workers Compensation. Individual Ministers I cannot comment on. Substitute labour with capital wherever possible and do so relentlessly.

  16. Judith

    Eliminate SGC for low paid workers

  17. Alfonso

    Eric’s effectiveness is irrelevant, on tv he sounds and has the manner of something out of Dickens. End of story.

  18. Tel

    When you have a dog that doesn’t bark, you get a new dog.

    Do you think the toy poodle was a good choice though?

  19. The biggest offenders in raising labour costs for employers are taxes that cause the cost of hiring a worker to exceed the worker’s take-home pay. How to the regular contributors to this blog propose to get rid of such taxes?

    Please run those taxes past me.
    I get to about 17% on top of the worker’s gross payroll as direct employer cost.

    There are other costs, imposed arbitrarily by legislation:
    The cost of fighting common law claims from staff (+ the ongoing cost in premiums if you lose)
    The cost of unfair dismissal claims.
    The cost of the pussyfooting around unfair dismissal (about 3% of my gross payroll so far this year).

    But no other direct “taxes” that are named as such.

  20. Tel

    At that moment I became an anti-Liberal campaigner. It was their first chance in 20 years in getting my vote, & Brandis blew it.

    Unlikely your letter went anywhere near Brandis.

    Small business is difficult for government to control. It is insufficiently bureaucratic, and doesn’t involve itself in political favours. Big business, big unions, big government… they all recognize each other as fellow travelers; just comes down to a matter of division of spoils between them. Yes they are competitors but other that that, essentially no difference between them.

  21. Yer not wrong Tel.
    There’s the problem with big government, and the problem with a parliament where very few, if any, from either side have any real world experience, apart from in a law firm, on a board, in a union, or… um…. er… yeah….

    Where’s the former shearers, menswear shop owners, factory managers, crane drivers, etc.

  22. Gavin R Putland

    Salvatore at the Pub #1801529 (responding to me at #1801496):

    I presume that your “17% on top of the worker’s gross payroll” includes payroll tax and the super guarantee (which, although not technically a tax, is rightly counted as such by Cat contributors for the purpose of comparing Australia’s tax burden with those of other countries).

    But you also need to count the difference between the “gross” and “net” payrolls – i.e. PAYG personal income tax, which is equivalent to a progressive payroll tax on top of the workers’ net pay.

  23. Denise

    I wouldn’t mind if the new treasurer channelled
    mr Micawber. Drat phone

  24. It will be a sorry day for us all if Eric is removed from cabinet and IR is parcelled out to someone less skilled than he is.

    If Turnbull does replace him, it will be VERY telling as to who he puts in place.

  25. But you also need to count the difference between the “gross” and “net” payrolls – i.e. PAYG personal income tax, which is equivalent to a progressive payroll tax on top of the workers’ net pay.

    I don’t know what I’d do without the Cat to teach me about hard thinky stuff like payroll.

    Gavin RP: We’ll use a real life example at my place.
    A staff member didn’t turn up for work this week, just ran off, as people are apt to do.
    So I’ve no problem discussing his pay.

    Gross pay = $2046
    PAYG tax = $ 546
    SGC + worker’s comp + payroll tax = $ 347.82
    Total cost to me = $ 2393.82
    Take home pay = $1450
    $2393.82 –
    $1450.00 =
    $ 943.82

    Summary $1450 > $943.82

  26. Eric Abetz apparently runs the Tasmanian Liberal Party pretty solidly. Only thing I’ve really objected to is that voice… FMD that voice could cut through a log faster than David Foster on a cold morning…

  27. Rabz

    How do the regular contributors to this blog propose to get rid of such taxes?

    Gav – short of visiting massive physical violence on our beloved elected representatives (which of course, I would never advocate) there is no conceivable way these taxes will be reduced or abolished in our lifetimes.

    There are no politicians or political parties either advocating or in a realistic position to enact such policies – in particular, the liberals, labor or the greenfilth.

    Do not cite the LDP as ultimately they won’t either.

    You cannot be both a social libertarian and a fiscal conservative.

    They are and will remain for eternity, mutually exclusive concepts.

    The only way these taxes will ever be removed is via total societal collapse.

  28. Lem

    Eric Abetz apparently runs the Tasmanian Liberal Party pretty solidly. Only thing I’ve really objected to is that voice… FMD that voice could cut through a log faster than David Foster on a cold morning…

    There was, though, that small matter of letting a fraudster employee slip over the Strait to wreak havoc on the Victorian parties books.

  29. Lem

    The only way these taxes will ever be removed is via total societal collapse.

    Possibly coming to an economy near you soon.

  30. There was, though, that small matter of letting a fraudster employee slip over the Strait to wreak havoc on the Victorian parties books.

    Solid win that one. Bloody Mexicans.

  31. .

    Actual reform, however small:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZwQ4tHza3k

    David Leyonhjelm speaks to his Fair Work Amendment (Penalty Rates Exemption for Small Business) Bill 2015. This Bill is designed to achieve one small thing: make it easier for small businesses to employ people on Sundays.

  32. EB

    Would have thought the end of a mining capex boom would have kept downward pressure on wages more than Eric.

  33. Gavin R Putland

    Salvatore at the Pub #1801567:

    So I’m suggesting that the total cost to you (in your capacity as an employer) should be $1450 + worker’s comp.

    How would the forgone revenue be replaced? Well of course not all of it would need to be replaced, because the reduction in the cost of labour would reduce unemployment, making people more self-reliant and reducing the need for government services. But, to answer the question: by some combination of taxes on economic rent and consumption – not on business inputs, especially labour.

    Cf. “Equitable methods of abolishing PAYG personal income tax“.

  34. Shy Ted

    He’s pretty masterful in the Senate too. And when the Lambies, Datyaris, Muirs and Lazarus’ display their ignorance he doesn’t even flinch. Not on the outside anyway.

  35. @ Gavin RP: Okay, I understand clearly your point. Good thinking. Works for me.

  36. JMH

    Did he resolve the issues you wrote to him about?

    Lem, it was about the ABC and board appointments, so I guess you could say the jury is still out.

  37. Andrew

    When you have a dog that doesn’t bark, you get a new dog.

    We had a dog that also didn’t bark, and actually unlocked the front door and walked around helping the thieves load up their bags. Then shit on the bed and bit the owners when they returned. What did we do with that rabid dog?

  38. AP

    Gavin, likely outcome is that under your scenario, take home pay could increase somewhere between the two figures, thereby negating the need for middle class welfare, and allowing far more “user-pays” arrangements for services such as medicine, education, etc, with the government outlays picked up by the states alone and funded only by GST. A flat 15% income tax to pay for a true social security safety net (get rid of at least half of the disability pensioners, and cut pensions to whatever minimum is needed so that these welfare recipients can not afford two-week European cruise holidays, three cars, two dogs, etc*), border security and defence. Get rid of all the other rubbish at the Federal level.

    All in all, a win-win for the country, employers and employees. Lower taxes, increased employment, increased saving and investment, minimum deadweight losses, better incentives.

    *If I paid less tax, I’d be able to support my Dad so he still had these things anyway, without the deadweight loss of the pension system, meaning I am also feeding lazy bureaucrats who also have their hand in my pocket.

  39. .

    You cannot be both a social libertarian and a fiscal conservative.

    rabz suggests I’m made from tachyons. Sorry mate I’m not a time travelling cyborg sent back to destroy big government. I’m also not an immortal dimensional travelling time lord hell bent on destroying the APS daleks.

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