For the recovering alcoholic, every day is defined by the decision not to have another drink. The Opposition leader should know how this feels as he attempts to swear himself off WorkChoices.
As the business lobby and former Coalition danger-men like Peter Reith urge him to take a tipple, Tony Abbott is attempting to stay off the juice even as every fibre in his being wants him to say ‘just a little one’.
And the public? They’re just waiting for him to fall off the wagon.
Q. If they won the next election, how likely do you think it would be that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party would try to bring back industrial laws similar to WorkChoices?
|Total||Vote Labor||Vote Lib/Nat||Vote Greens|
|Not very likely||19%||9%||31%||8%|
|Not at all likely||8%||4%||13%||3%|
The business lobby and sections of the Coalition frontbench are encouraging Abbott to embrace a new wave of industrial reforms, attacking in particular rights in the Fair Work Act that wind back the restrictive definitions of what constitutes legitimate industrial action and what unions may bargain over.
They argue this is just reform on its merits, that it has nothing to do with WorkChoices and that Abbott is being overly cautious and lacking political leadership (rhetorical code for refusing to commit political suicide).
But the problem for Abbott is that no matter how hard he protests and how much the reform advocates attempt to create technical difference between these proposals and the Howard era agenda, the majority of people still expect him to bring back WorkChoices.
That’s because the truth is that WorkChoices was never a particular policy or section of legislation. It was a brand that the former Howard government invested in heavily to support labour market deregulation.
The brand was market tested, promoted with more than $30 million in taxpayer-funded advertising and propagated in the free media, until it established itself as an easily understood frame for looking at the world.
The problem was the union movement and ALP then spent nearly as much trashing the brand, further reinforcing that this was the package that defined conservative political parties.
In marketing terms WorkChoices was a highly successful example of building brand recognition. In political terms it ended up a dead cat.
This is the problem for Tony Abbott; the minute talk turns to industrial relations, people remember the brand rather than any specific policy nuance – which makes any attempt at policy nuance incredibly dangerous.
If he endorses the reintroduction of statutory individual contracts – is that WorkChoices? If he suggests weakening unfair dismissal laws? If he tinkers with award structures?
Abbott has demonstrated he understands exactly how toxic the WorkChoices brand is; he’s shown impressive commitment to staying on the IR straight and narrow.
But one of the mantras of AA is that recovering alcoholics need to watch the company they keep. They need friends who will support them, who they can turn to at their moments of weakness, rather than those who sabotage their attempts at staying sober.
In this context the business lobby and chorus of former Howard-era ministers are not being good buddies.
The business lobby, supported by some sections of the media, is attempting to create a sense of crisis around Labor’s Fair Work Laws.
There’s a Battle for the Workplace going on, they’d have you believe. Australian industry is struggling under the chains of inflexible IR laws. The regime is unworkable. The unions have too much power. The country is in the grip of debilitating industrial disputes. Go on Tony, just one drink.
Business argues that unions now have too much power to negotiate over issues that affect the running of their operations – like off-shoring jobs at Qantas, or rostering and accommodation at BHP. They preferred the WorkChoices model where allowable content was strictly limited to issues of pay and work conditions.
But our polling this week shows the public isn’t buying the business argument – there’s broad support for the idea that workers should have a say in a range of issues that affect their jobs.
Q. How much say should employees have in the following issues in their workplace?
A lot/ some say
|A lot of say||Some say||A little say||No say at all||Don’t know|
|Health and safety||90%||63%||27%||7%||2%||1%|
|When they can take annual leave||86%||42%||44%||11%||2%||2%|
|Hours of work and rostering||77%||26%||51%||19%||3%||2%|
|CEO salary and bonuses||59%||29%||30%||18%||20%||3%|
With Fair Work Australia the only body to emerge clean from the Qantas grounding, it seems the public is not buying into the phony war on IR.
The test for Tony Abbott is how long he can resist the chorus egging him on to have a drink for the good of the country. As they say – one day at a time.
- Peter Lewis | Director, EMC
& Jackie Woods | Senior Account Manager, EMC
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