Disharmony over WorkChoices… Pay scales at last… Budgets boost green, tax waits… Legal privilege lost?… DoubleClick deal in trouble

Business groups disharmony over WorkChoices

Tensions are breaking out as big business tries to coerce groups representing small business to speak out in favor of the Coalition’s industrial relations package WorkChoices.

The Federal Government is urging industry groups to launch advertising and marketing campaigns in support of WorkChoices. The Business Council of Australia is reportedly considering it, while the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has not ruled it out.

But some industry groups supporting smaller businesses have told SmartCompany it is unlikely they will embark on an advertising campaign. And one main reason is that while they might support the theory of WorkChoices, the reality has been starkly different, with many employers struggling with the new regime.

On Friday, SmartCompany reported that an industry group wanted to go public with its dissatisfaction with WorkChoices but had been warned off by another prominent industry group that had been very vocal in its support of WorkChoices.

This morning The Australian reported on a leaked letter in which Michael Delaney, the chief executive of the Motor Trades Association of Australia (MTAA), attacked Peter Hendy, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, accusing him of playing favourites with Government.

The cause of the dispute was a media release by Hendy’s ACCI, reportedly on behalf of the MTAA and other business groups, calling for the current unfair dismissal laws and the rest of WorkChoices to be retained.

Delany took issue with the release, claiming the MTTA was not consulted on the contents of the media release or the timing of the release. He also took issue with the fact the media release from ACCI was released to the Federal Government before it went to the Opposition.

But is there more to it than that? On Friday, the executive director of the NSW branch of MTTA, James McCall, told SmartCompany that members were very confused about WorkChoices and faced a “whole host of problems”.

He said it was very difficult to get definitions and clarifications of rules and that the benefits of unfair dismissal exemption had been overstated because employees were suing for other things like breach of contracts.

A new survey also seems to suggest that small businesses are not as happy with the regime as Prime Minister John Howard might think. The MYOB survey of 1800 small businesses says that 30% of the business owners surveyed were less likely to recruit under the WorkChoices regime, while only one in five was more likely to recruit.

– Amanda Gome


Fair Pay Commission heeds business calls for pay scale information

The Australian Fair Pay Commission will begin work this week preparing to publish updated information on 105,000 pay scales that apply to millions of employees across the country.

There was an outcry from the nation’s business groups when the AFPC decided not to publish pay scales late in 2006, deviating from the practice of its predecessor, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Many business groups were forced to devote significant resources to calculating new pay scales on behalf of their members after the AFPC’s first minimum wage review decision took effect in December 2006.

The Australian Industry Group has been one of the most vocal in calling on the AFPC to publish the pay scales. Chief executive Heather Ridout says the decision will mean “the obligations of employers and the entitlements of employees will be much clearer”.

“The fact that the Commission chose not to publish accurate, legally binding pay scales caused unnecessary confusion, and concerns employers may face big fines for unwittingly underpaying employees. There were also problems for companies in contract bidding and a whole range of other issues,” Ridout says.

AFPC chairman Ian Harper says stakeholders “made it clear to the Commission that they wanted the Commission to publish pay scales, and the Commission is responding directly to these issues”.

An AFPC spokesman says while no time frame has been set for when the pay scale information will be published, there was “no way in the world” the process of consulting with stakeholders and calculating pay scales would be completed before the AFPC makes its next wage decision in the middle of this year.

A major stumbling block to the AFPC publishing the pay scales was removed when the Federal Government announced over the weekend it would allocate an additional $5 million over three years to the AFPC.

The Government tacitly acknowledged the problem when it directed the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations to prepare summaries of 300 key awards, which contain the pay scales, earlier this year. However, business groups expressed concern that the summaries, which are not legally binding, could leave employers not paying staff appropriately.

– Mike Preston


Environment wins from Victorian, Federal budgets… but what about taxes?

The environment is set to get a big boost from public coffers over the next month, with new spending on water and climate change expected from both next week’s Victorian budget and the Federal budget on May 8.

Victorian Treasurer John Brumby says the state budget is on track to achieve a $374 million surplus when it is brought down on May 1, with economic growth for 2007-2008 expected to marginally exceed the 2.75% rate reached this year.

Brumby poured cold water on suggestions that the surplus could be used to fund cuts in payroll tax or WorkCover premiums, saying it would be unusual to expect tax relief in the first budget after an election.

But he confirmed that several new environmental initiatives will be announced, including money to help business meet the challenge of climate change and commitments in relation to “Melbourne’s domestic supply and in terms of our irrigation infrastructure”.

Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that Federal Treasurer Peter Costello will bring down his first “green” budget on May 8. The Australian Financial Review reports that programs to assist the commercialisation of clean energy technology and provide tax breaks for businesses that use low emission technology are likely recipients of new money in the budget.

Costello will be constrained in his ability to deliver generous tax cuts or other spending measures by the risk that they could put pressure on interest rates, but Prime Minister John Howard said earlier this year that there would be “a bit of room” left in the budget for spending on climate change.

– Mike Preston


Business could be denied legal professional privilege

The Australian Law Reform Commission is considering reform to the legal professional privilege, the rule that protects lawyers from revealing information they have received from clients in the course of providing legal advice.

The Australian Financial Review reports that one proposal being considered by the ALRC is to exclude companies from privilege protection. Such a change could mean businesses involved in criminal-type legal proceedings would be denied privileged communication with their lawyers.

– Mike Preston


Google DoubleClick buyout trouble

Google’s $3.9 billion deal to buy online ad supplier DoubleClick, is under threat from a complaint filed by three privacy groups with the US Federal Trade Commission.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, and US Privacy Information Research Group say the acquisition of DoubleClick will permit Google to track both a person’s internet searches and a person’s website visits. This could affect the privacy interests of 233 million internet users in North America, 314 million internet users in Europe, and more than 1.1 billion internet users around the world.

The groups are seeking an injunction to stop the acquisition. DoubleClick says the there is no plan by Google to link the pools of anonymous data their automated services collect on consumer online surfing and search behaviour.

– Jacqui Walker


Economic round-up

The markets are quiet today as they await consumer price index data to be released tomorrow. Economists believe the CPI data will be a key factor in the Reserve Bank’s decision on interest rates, due to be announced on Wednesday next week.

Just after midday the S&P/ASX 200 has lifted less than 0.1% on Friday’s close to sit on 6209.7. At the same time, the Australian dollar was trading at US83.57 cents, down from the most recent Sydney close of US83.74 cents.


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