Workplace review risky business

IF THERE is one thing that is really challenging Australia at the moment, it is the rate of change in everything from technology to work practices.

A generation ago, Australia was relatively isolated and we could sustain big-scale manufacturing because of that isolation and tariffs.

Sure, we flirted with some overseas trade, but countries like China were a closed shop and no one had invented Facebook, online shopping and smartphones.

Soon the trade barriers into South Korea will be relaxed and China continues to demand more of our high- end food and wine.

Those of us in the newspaper game, and media in general, have seen change envelop this industry.

The Examiner is now a multimedia outlet, rather than solely a newspaper, and we have harnessed those changes to reach a bigger audience than ever before.

On Thursday, for example, we had a record 391,000 hits on our website - which included videos and live tweets from the Future Premier Debate, which then appeared in more detail in print the next day to a readership of more than 75,000 people.

But the more Australians are exposed to international competition and technology advances, the more our existing approaches to work and working conditions must change if we expect to stay competitive.

The federal government has commissioned a review into workplace relations and has promised to take any overhaul to the next election.

It is dangerous ground for the Coalition because the over-zealous Work Choices debacle cost John Howard an election.

They ignored the golden rule that workers cannot be worse off.

Most of our working conditions are based around an old industrial relations system, almost the old clock-in-clock-out mentality of the factory floor.

However, increasingly employees are demanding flexibility, which is at odds with many awards.

Restrictive work practices were the first and deepest wound in the car industry and Qantas is quagmired by a raft of awards that don't hamper other airlines.

It was interesting to read the comments of former federal minister Martin Ferguson this week, who was also a former ACTU president.

He said that Australia's high labour costs and low productivity risks billions in revenue and his comments will be a major embarrassment for Labor leader Bill Shorten.

Mr Ferguson backed many of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's ideas and made a pointed criticism of old-style unionism by saying that, "it is time some in today's union leadership recognised that their members' long-term interests are aligned with their long-term job security".

The most obvious example in Tasmania is hospitality penalty rates for weekends and public holidays.

If a restaurant can't afford the double time and a half on a public holiday, the workers get fewer hours, the business is less viable and the tourists have nowhere to eat. It is a classic lose-lose recipe that belongs in the Dark Ages.

This isn't about ripping off workers, it is about flexibility on both sides so that everyone is a winner.

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