Nicholas Way

SmartCompany /

Kevin Rudd has little choice but to soften his industrial relations plans. And unions have no choice but to go along with him.

A pragmatic retreat

Surprise! Surprise! If all those media sources have got it right, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd is about to announce a retreat on Labor’s industrial relations policy to appease business. It won’t be of Dunkirk proportions but it will be significant.

In particular, Rudd will bow to pressure from the mining companies and give them some flexibility regarding their employees who are on individual contracts. It’s not hard to figure out why.

These employees are comfortably pulling over six figures – beneficiaries of the mining boom. They hardly represent a hardship case, and there’s little evidence that they are clamouring to have unions represent them again.

Indeed, there is evidence that mining workers, particularly in the boom state of Western Australia, are just as nervous as their employers about having unions back on their sites. When you are pulling big dollars you typically have financial commitments to match, so it’s fair to assume most of these workers will want minimal disruption to their working lives.

Rudd knows this; more importantly he knows the unions have nowhere else to go. If they turn their back on Labor, if they deny their political wing those all-important campaign dollars, what do they risk in return: locking in WorkChoices.

Unions know this election is the last throw of the dice. If Labor loses this time around, WorkChoices will become so embedded in the workplace it will be become almost impossible to overturn. It might be through gritted teeth, but the unions know Rudd is their only choice.

One final point: Why do unions continue to make such a cause célèbre of the mining industry and its widespread use of individual contracts? Most workers in this industry are highly paid and on good conditions. You would think the unions’ time and resources would be far better spent organising workers where the wages and conditions are a pale imitation of the mining fraternity.

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