PROTEST: Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey talks with protesters yesterday at Lismore.
PROTEST: Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey talks with protesters yesterday at Lismore.

No apologies for WorkChoices

Jamie Brown jamie.brown@northernstar.com.au FEDERAL Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey made no apologies for his government's stance on industrial relations during a visit to Lismore and Ballina yesterday. Neither did Nationals candidate for Page Chris Gulaptis. And the gathering of business people at a Ballina breakfast and a Lismore lunch would never have asked for an apology.

They were too busy enjoying their new flexibility for hiring and firing their employees. However, for the contingent of protesters outside the two venues, the Howard Government's new workplace laws are extreme and they fear the situation may get worse. "We've tried protesting these new laws. Unions have taken the issue to the High Court. Now, the only way to get rid of these workplace laws is to get rid of the Government that created them," said Northern Rivers Rights At Work campaign officer Paul Doughty.

Minister Hockey insists workers under workplace agreements are earning nearly double what they used to under awards. But Mr Doughty said those figures are misleading, with public service managerial jobs tilting the figures. In fact, Griffith University research points to wages being worse under the new laws once those managerial wages were removed from the equation.

However, small business is embracing the workplace reform and is now less afraid to hire new hands.

Lismore motorcycle dealer Michael O'Keefe, attending the Lismore lunch with Minister Hockey, said he was now prepare to 'take a punt' and hire a new face.

"These laws give us confidence to operate without being burdened," he said. "In the past, if a new employee didn't work out it might have compromised a small business. Under these new laws I've increased my team. But at the end of the day it is my relationship with my staff that counts." Minister Hockey asked for faith. "Believe in what we are doing," he said. "We have created higher wages and more jobs. Judge us by what we do." For Paul Doughty, however, there are other avenues that can achieve the same outcome. "You don't have to treat employees unfairly to achieve a productive workplace," he said.



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