The Liberals' industrial relations policy is a hoax that seeks to dupe the people of Western Australia, Productivity and Labour Relations Minister Yvonne Henderson said today.
"The policy leaves all the important questions unanswered," Mrs Henderson said.
"It is a lightweight statement full of gaping holes. It is industrial relations by secrecy and subterfuge.
"It claims to offer workers a choice of staying with the award system or going into an alternative contract system.
"This is a fraud. The employers will retain the veto. The only choice for the workers will be between accepting the employers' terms or being sacked.
"What is the minimum wage going to be? What will minimum hours be? Why would Parliament be required to set new minimum wages and conditions? What are these going to be? Why won't they tell us now? Don't the Liberals trust the Industrial Relations Commission?
"There will be two sets of minimum conditions - one in awards and one legislated by Parliament.
"Are politicians better equipped to make these complex and far-reaching decisions than people who are recognised as independent, not political, experts capable of determining these matters?
"The Liberals say they would repeal all unnecessary industrial legislation. Who decides what is unnecessary? Do they mean occupational health and safety legislation, and EEO legislation?"
Mrs Henderson said the industrial relations system which had set minimum standards and conditions for nearly a hundred years was becoming more flexible and responsive to the needs of the economy.
"There have been major victories in the area of productivity gains from the removal of restrictive work practices.
"Western Australia's productivity is significantly higher than the national figure, and has improved markedly in recent years.
"In the last financial year, WA had the lowest number of days lost since the year to June 1968 - 24 years.
"Days lost under Labor have consistently been little more than half of what they were during the last 10 years of conservative government in WA.
"This is because of the Labor Government's policies of consultation and negotiation. The Liberals' policy would undo all of this.
"These are the questions that the Liberals will not answer: Where does their hands-off attitude leave industrial relations?
"Would a dispute be allowed to fester because a conservative government says it would not step in? Would employers be able to sack the employees with whom they were in dispute? The policy does not say."
Mrs Henderson said it had taken the best minds in the Liberal Party 10 years to come up with this - 15 pages of generalisations which would leave the State floundering.
"Occupational health and safety merits two paragraphs in the Liberals' policy. They talk about improving the need for workplace participation and co-operation, exactly the policies of this Government which for the past 10 years have brought very big improvements in occupational health and safety in this State.
"The Liberals want to undo all the gains achieved through consultation and co-operation. And to make it worse, they will not tell us what they want to replace it with.
"They say the new standards will reflect acceptable community standards. But they will not tell us what they believe these are.
"Their minimum conditions will become maximum conditions.
"And even when the new system is in place, we still will not know what the new standard will be. There will be no public identification of the parties to an agreement. What about the existing role of the Industrial Relations Commission in overseeing these agreements? There is no mention of this.
"Currently, the Minister has a public interest role in minimising industrial disputes. However, the Liberals say that if they win government, they will not become involved in disputes.
"Presumably this means that the Minister will not have the power to refer disputes to the Industrial Relations Commission. The Liberals plan to shirk their responsibilities to every person in the community.
"It is a hands-off approach which will force disputes to be slugged out. And in a battle for the survival of the fittest, we all know who the winners would be.
"For example, in the contract cleaning business, workers have virtually no bargaining power. They are protected only by the award. Do the Liberals seriously expect us to believe that migrant workers, many of whom women, have equal bargaining power as the business people who employ them?
"Or will they face, in John Howard's words, a 'parting of the ways'?
"Mr Kierath will say they can opt to stay with the award, but the reality will be that workers with no bargaining power will have no choice but to accept the employers' offer.
"Mr Howard has committed the Liberals to a consistent approach across the States. Does this mean they would leave the dirty work to Mr Howard?"