National Farmers' Federation

Industrial Relations: "Now is not the time to be looking back"

“FLEXIBILITY in the workplace – especially for small businesses – allows employers and employees to reach amicable agreements to mutual benefit,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said today. “Farms are among Australia’s most important small businesses, employing over 330,000 people direct on-farm – with one-in-six of all Australian jobs hinging on the farm sector throughout the supply chain, including retail, wholesale, processing, packaging, transport and more. “IR reform has been good for people wanting jobs and those pursuing new career opportunities. It has given employers flexibility to create a workplace that is relevant and responsive to current and emerging needs. “Those benefits must be available to all businesses across the economy, including all farmers. Far from winding back IR reform, Australia needs to make it all-encompassing. This is the NFF’s IR priority for the election. “At present, only 30% of farm businesses – those that are incorporated, along with farms in Victoria (the State Government referred its industrial powers to the Commonwealth in 1996), the NT and ACT – directly benefit from the Government’s reforms. “That leaves 70% of farmers stranded – either in Transitional Awards unable to access the real benefits of the reforms, or trapped in out-dated State industrial systems. Labor State Government’s have been recalcitrant, dogmatically clinging to their antiquated industrial systems and damned the consequences. “In denying a truly national system, Labor States have been bloody-minded in scuttling progress, content to sacrifice economic prosperity for all Australians. “The NFF has been a long-time advocate of workplace reform, seeking to address the complexities and undue influence of both government and unions in determining how small businesses and their employees manage their workplaces. “The NFF is not opposed to the intent of the Fairness Test. In fact, most farmers pay well above the federal minimum wage – and are happy to do so to attract employees. Further, farmers also provide significant additional non-monetary benefits, such as housing and vehicles as part of employment packages. “Rather, our opposition stems from the onerous nature of the red tape the Fairness Test imposes and the complexity of the processes involved. “The ACTU’s attempt to smear sensible workplace reform and sabotage constructive two-way relations between employers and employees – curbing union-domination – is testimony to the degree unions are invested in this election. “Federal Labor’s IR policy at this election campaign is no alternative at all. “Despite their IR revamp (re-releasing their policy Mark II), which commits a Labor Government to retaining the current right of entry laws, the secondary boycott provisions and restrictions on industrial action, we remain unconvinced. “The rhetoric is heartening, but the ACTU’s insistence that the policy doesn’t go far enough in winding-back the reforms should send a shudder through every small business and every employee in Australia. “Labor would have to make big concessions to appease the unions. Could, or would, a federal Labor Government resist such pressure? “Farmers and their employees want and need flexibility, especially in the face of the chronic labour shortage in regional Australia and the nature of on-farm work. “Hence, the NFF strongly supports individual and collective workplace agreements that limit the intervention of unions to that requested by employees. “We strongly support the small business exemption to unfair dismissal laws – which rightly balance the needs of workers in securing gainful employment and the needs of employers in growing their businesses. “We vehemently oppose Labor’s bid to scrap these exemptions. “The workplace remains a pivotal challenge for economic reform in this country. The long-term benefits will be in the national interest and will enable employers and employees, alike, to have greater individual say over their working lives. “Now is not the time to be looking back.” [ENDS] See the NFF’s

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