Crumlin Dismisses Call for Return to AWAs

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has flatly rejected the idea of changing flexibility provisions in the Fair Work Act via a return to a system similar to John Howard's Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

Speaking at a Sydney conference alongside Australian Workers' Union National Secretary Paul Howes, both leaders warned against any moves to undermine the safety net for workers.

Mr Crumlin said the agenda was being pushed along by former Howard Government Minister Peter Reith and some of his more conservative colleagues, including current Liberal Industrial Relations spokesman Eric Abetz.

"They just see an opportunity to kick along their conservative ideological agenda and it has no place in the current environment," Mr Crumlin said.

Earlier at the same conference, Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout blamed the Fair Work Act for a lack of productivity growth.

Ms Ridout said AI Group was not looking for wholesale changes to the Fair Work Act but did say that individual contracts "need to be looked at".

She indicated that AI Group would support the reintroduction of AWAs underpinned by a no disadvantage test. 

Ms Ridout, who was consulted closely about the Fair Work Act's drafting by then Industrial Relations Minister Julia Gillard, also criticised FWA for restricting the engagement of contractors and on-hire labour.

Mr Howes rejected the assertion that lost productivity was a function of the FWA, saying the "lost years of productivity" occurred under Peter Reith's initial 1996 legislation, then his 1998 and 2001 amendments, then WorkChoices.

"If anyone thinks they're going to solve productivity by the reintroduction of AWAs, or a harsher industrial relations regime, then clearly, they have got their heads in the sand," he said.

"Those are the facts, those are the statistics, you can't change that, and it disappoints me that we are constantly in this country having a debate on productivity which is about someone losing and someone winning."

Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans has announced a review of the Fair Work Act from January 1 next year.