Sunday, December 26, 2010


Tony Abbott's famous phrase, that WorkChoices was dead, buried and cremated may need a new coda according to this piece in The Age ...

Fire at will: Liberals flirt with no-fault sacking

Date: December 26 2010

Josh Gordon, The Age

SENIOR Liberals are ramping up a push for an industrial relations overhaul - including a no-fault dismissal system to end arbitration that decides the fairness of sackings.

Despite Tony Abbott's declaration that WorkChoices is ''dead, buried and cremated'', the Coalition's post-election policy review is working on an industrial relations policy to take to the next election to replace Labor's Fair Work system.

One plan is to replace unfair dismissal laws - blamed for discouraging small business employment - with a radical system modelled on the concept of no-fault divorce that replaced the antiquated Matrimonial Causes Act in 1975.

The idea has been floated by industrial relations consultant Grace Collier in a paper to be published next month in the IPA Review, the journal of the free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

''Our current unfair dismissal system encourages Australians to behave like greedy whingers,'' Ms Collier writes. ''A no-fault dismissal system would set our heads right on the issue and provide for dignity of exit, allowing people to focus not on legal conflict but on managing departure in the chosen way whilst being encouraged to embrace the future opportunities that are always just around the corner.''

Under the proposal, being cautiously supported by influential Liberals, employers could sack workers with impunity, provided they offer compensation including a reasonable paid notice period, an assistance package and job transition services.

Ms Collier, a former unionist who now advises the hardline-conservative H.R. Nicholls Society, said a no-fault dismissal system would remove the need for costly legal argument to determine the fairness of a case, or whether it represented a redundancy or a dismissal.

Labor's new Fair Work system, which broadened unfair dismissal laws, triggered a 63 per cent increase in unfair dismissal applications in its first year, the paper says. ''Every working day, regardless of fairness, truth or the merits of their case, Australia employers collectively pay somewhere between $80,598.50 and $127,804.77 in 'go away money' simply to avoid government arbitration,'' it says. ''Is this a new tax on business and is anyone - other than employment lawyers - winning?''

Mr Abbott has been reluctant to revisit the industrial relations debate amid concerns it would be linked to WorkChoices, the Coalition policy that contributed to former prime minister John Howard's 2007 election demise. During the election campaign, Mr Abbott promised not to touch Labor's industrial laws for at least one term if he won.

But opposition industrial relations spokesman Eric Abetz, a recent guest at the H.R. Nicholls Society's annual dinner, in Melbourne, told The Sunday Age that although he did not want to comment on the merits of the proposal, ''it is a concept I would be willing to look at''.

Backbencher Liberals Stephen Ciobo and Jamie Briggs and frontbenchers Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have also made comments in recent weeks suggesting a need for the party to reconnect with its history of industrial relations deregulation.

Mr Briggs, a former industrial relations adviser to John Howard, believed Ms Collier's idea would be part of the Coalition's policy review headed by Mr Robb.

''The current laws are badly flawed and they prevent people from getting a chance of a job,'' Mr Briggs said.

''The idea that Grace [Collier] has put up is something that will be discussed.''

IPA executive director John Roskam believed the system was now even less flexible than when the former Howard government took office in 1996, blaming it for creating a ''grievance culture''.

''There are clear problems with the current system and for the Liberal Party to stand back while these problems exist and while people are losing their jobs … is wrong,'' Mr Roskam said. ''The system should not be set in stone.''

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