The industrial relations sky is not falling

by 11 Dec 2007

With Labor’s victory in the recent federal election, there has been a lot of speculation and misinformation about proposed changes to industrial relations and the timetable for implementation. Due to the media’s voracious 24/7 appetite for news (no matter how credible the sources are for some stories) in the wake of the election, employers have expressed some concern about proposed changes to WorkChoices.

The Rudd Government has clearly outlined transition times for its proposed new laws for a number of months, and if it sticks by them (which it clearly looks like doing) then employers will have plenty of time to adjust. This is in contrast to the rushed introduction of WorkChoices under the former Howard government, which left many employers confounded and confused as to what was happening and when they were meant to happen.

Despite the Rudd Government’s well thought out plans, there is still no guarantee that its proposed changes will become law. It does not have a majority in the Senate, as the Howard government did, and will face a significant number of hurdles and probably have to make a number of concessions in order to get its changes through.

At the time of going to press, the Coalition senators were still unsure as to whether or not they had a mandate to block any changes to WorkChoices given the election results. The 28 Labor senators will still need 11 more votes to make their changes law, and if the Coalition oppose Labor’s legislation, Labor has to corral the supporting votes of four Democrat senators, four Greens, one Family First and two Coalition floor-crossers.

As the Democrats have noted, that’s an unlikely probability. From July next year, Labor’s 32 senators will need the votes of five Green senators, one Family First, and another floor-crosser. Still not easy.

So, despite all the brouhaha in the major press outlets about the recent election and claims that the industrial relations sky is going to fall in, the reality is that it will still take some time for Labor to have its way, and it may have to make a number of concessions to do just that.