1. He'll attack award conditions and penalty rates.

Only a few months after he became Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott and his deputy both said they wanted to scrap penalty rates.a Since then, there has been a concerted campaign by bosses to do just that. In March, employers made 20 applications to slash penalty rates for low-paid workers. They were rejected by the Fair Work Commission in a "strongly worded ruling", because there was a "significant 'evidentiary gap'"—the bosses couldn't back up their demand for pay cuts.b

But a lack of evidence won't stop Abbott. Next year there will be a broader review covering working conditions as well as penalty rates, and Abbott promised employers: "I am confident that if the government were to back, for argument's sake, applications to the Fair Work Commission for adjustments in this area it may well be successful."c Abbott would throw the full weight of the government's lawyers behind the bosses' campaign to cut pay and conditions.

And then there's Abbott's statutory individual contracts, which industry is already planning to exploit: "The hospitality industry has joined retailers in enthusiastically embracing Tony Abbott's proposed workplace changes as a mechanism to extend trading hours without paying penalty rates".d Removing penalty rates will be a priority of an Abbott government.

a. Malcolm Farr, Tony Abbott wants to scrap penalty rates, The Daily Telegraph, 16 February 2010

b. Ben Schneiders, Employer bid to cut penalty rates fails, The Age, 18 March 2013

c. Daniel Hurst, Push to wind back penalty rates, The Age, 1 May 2013

d. Brad Norington, Hotels back workplace changes, The Australian, 15 May 2013

2. Abbott will let employers undercut EBAs and awards.

The heart of WorkChoices was the AWA, an individual contract that could be pushed onto workers and undercut their collective agreement. In June last year, bosses began pushing for the Fair Work Act to be modified to bring back AWAs under another namea—and that's exactly what Abbott is threatening.

Abbott is pretending that he is keeping Labor's Individual Flexibility Agreements, but in fact he is just keeping the title. Currently, employers and employees agree in their EBA that certain conditions are crucial, while others are open to individual negotiation. The fine print of Abbott's policy says that protections will be removed so that "IFA's cannot be restricted in an enterprise agreement". This is a major attack on collective agreements, as they would exist on paper but could be overridden in their entirety by individual contracts—just like WorkChoices.

In addition, the safety net will be removed, with Abbott promising to weaken the existing Better Off Overall Test.b This is in response to an employer push to bring back wage-cutting clauses that were "a feature in many approved pre-Fair Work Act 2009 agreements"c but have been found by the Commission to leave workers worse off. In other words, Abbott will return to the test that applied to AWAs under WorkChoices, which was impossible to administer properly and didn't stop workers losing pay and conditions.d The retail industry is already plotting how it can use this loophole to strip penalty rates for working non-standard hours—by declaring that the non-standard hours are themselves the "non-monetary" benefit that compensates for losing the extra pay.e

a. Luke Williams, Industry Wants AWAs Back, but by Another Name, Crikey, 5 June 2012

b. Mark Skulley, Coalition proposes Fair Work appeals and new BOOT, Australian Financial Review, 10 May 2013

c. ACCI, Submission to the Fair Work Act Review, February 2012

d. Figures prove fairness test a 'lemon': Burrow, The Age, 10 November 2007

e. Ewin Hannan, First test of Abbott's law over penalty rates, The Australian, 14 May 2013

3. The Coalition will bribe companies to attack workers.

Abbott has a track record of using taxpayers' money to bribe companies into attacking their workers. When he was John Howard's industrial relations minister, he tried to make industry assistance conditional on employers suing unions.a He tried to make university funding conditional on forcing staff to sign AWAs, and his Deputy Leader tried the same thing under WorkChoices.b,c He even made attacks on construction unions a "non-negotiable condition" of funding for the Commonwealth Games.d

His new IR policy threatens to use the same tactic—promising to "introduce a national code and guidelines that will govern industrial relations arrangements", alongside conservative State governments who are using the same approach. In Victoria, the Coalition has written to companies telling them they are ineligible for government work because their EBAs include "union-friendly" clauses such as agreeing to hire apprentices,e or agreeing to advertise the Royal Children's Hospital's Good Friday Appeal.f Embarrassingly, they were forced to back down when secret documents revealed the strongest tenderer in a hospital project had been blacklisted.g,h The Government was found to have illegally tried to coerce and discriminate against union members.i Abbott would extend that ideological approach, putting union-busting ahead of good government.

a. Government drops plans to link IR reform with car industry assistance, Workplace Express, 13 December 2002

b. Fed Gov insisting on industrial relations reform for universities, The World Today, ABC, 13 November 2003

c. Harriet Alexander, Government tells unis: be flexible and limit staff to AWAs, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 2007

d. Bracks rejects cash for IR reform, Workplace Express, 7 June 2002

e. Clay Lucas, Union deal a wrecker for tender, The Age, 14 January 2013

f. Ben Schneiders, Building giant spurns Baillieu, The Age, 15 October 2012

g. Ben Schneiders, Bendigo Hospital tender in 'disarray', Bendigo Advertiser, 1 April 2013

h. Matt Johnston, Banned builder Lend Lease wins Bendigo Hospital bid, Herald Sun, 5 April 2013

i. Ben Schneiders, Union crackdown in disarray, The Age, 17 May 2013

4. He'll protect hardline bosses who refuse to negotiate.

The business lobby has been pushing hard for Abbott to create a loophole that would allow bosses to refuse to negotiate with their workers. They are angry that the Federal Court upheld a decision that employers could not avoid the "good faith bargaining" requirements simply by refusing to acknowledge workers' requests for an agreement.a In the case they are complaining about, workers had their pay and conditions cut when their jobs were taken over by a new employer who spent 18 months refusing even to talk to them about a better deal.b

Under the Fair Work Act, a flat refusal to talk is treated as a hard-line negotiating tactic, and workers are entitled to the same protections they have in any other bargaining situation—and even then, only if they win majority support in a ballot run by the AEC.c These strict restrictions in the Fair Work Act are reflected in the very low levels of industrial action.d Abbott's policy of requiring "genuine and meaningful talks" prior to a protected action ballot sounds reasonable, but in fact it would give aggressive employers an effective veto over industrial action. If the boss refuses to talk, Abbott would force workers to sue their boss in the Fair Work Commission before they could even begin to negotiate a workplace agreement. With this concession to industrial extremists, Abbott's policy represents a serious attack on good faith bargaining.

a. Hard-line bosses want 'no bargain, no strike' law, WorkplaceInfo, 1 May 2012

b. Wayne Forno, Beating JJ Richards, Big Rigs, 27 September 2011

c. Jim Rutherford & Rohan Kux, Can Employers ignore union requests to bargain?, Harwood Andrews Lawyers, 21 June 2012

d. Matt Cowgill, Where to from here for the anti-Fair Work Act campaign?, We Are All Dead, 10 May 2013

5. Abbott will decide what pay you can ask for.

Despite his claim to support small government and deregulation, Abbott's plan is to micromanage workplace negotiations by forcing bureaucrats to decide whether claims are "realistic and sensible" at every step of the negotiations. Of course, we know this is only going to operate in one direction—there's no way a company that locks out its workers will be told to offer a bigger pay rise, but you can bet that workers asking for a pay rise above inflation will be told they need to trade off their holidays. That's the model that has been used by conservative State governments to attack front-line public service staff;a the NSW and Victorian governments even include superannuation in the cap.b Abbott's plan is to mandate the same pay cap model in the private sector.

The background to this is the business lobby's dishonest campaign about productivity, and Abbott's policy reference to "our poor productivity" shows that he has been sucked in by it. The reality is that Australia's productivity has been growing faster than wages for a decade—and as a result, workers have been missing out on their fair share of the increased national income.c Abbott's insistence that any new agreement "would not adversely affect productivity" is code for preventing workers from sharing in the increased profits their increased productivity has achieved.

Of course, the devil is in the detail. Abbott's softly-softly language says he will only ban claims that are "exorbitant or excessive"—but he doesn't spell out a formula. Disturbingly, Abbott's policy document gives a clue by identifying a number of pay deals that it says are unacceptable. To be clear, these are not ambit claims; he is talking about finalised deals that employers have endorsed and the Commission has approved—but which Abbott has unilaterally decided are "abuses" that he would ban. It is clear that what he wants is deregulation and flexibility when pay is falling, and heavy-handed government intervention to prevent pay rising. Professor David Peetz observes that these interventions are "remarkable": "These are restrictions that go beyond those required by WorkChoices."d

a. Annabel Hepworth, CPSU slams productivity caps", The Australian, 21 February 2013

b. Liz Foschia, Pay rises to be hit by super contributions, ABC News, 3 May 2013

c. Matt Cowgill, Labour's shrinking share, We Are All Dead, 5 March 2013

d. David Peetz, Coalition's productivity obsession makes for flawed IR policy, The Conversation, 14 May 2013

6. He'll force the Commission to toe the Liberal line.

Part of Abbott's strategy is to use the Fair Work Commission as a fig leaf for his attacks on workers. The government will ask the Commission to slash penalty rates. The government will make the Commission decide whether a free pizza outweighs the loss of penalty rates.a The government will force the Commission to block "exorbitant" agreements. But for this strategy to work, Abbott needs to be sure that the Commission will follow directions—and a "sting in the tail" of his policy is his threat to stack it with political appointments.b,c

Professor Andrew Stewart says the policy to "giv[e] active consideration to establishing an independent appeal jurisdiction" could mean "a new group of senior appointments—hand-picked by the sitting Minister—who would be empowered to override the views of FWC's senior members", and to "re-examine important issues such as penalty rates, holidays, trainee and apprentice wages and minimum shift lengths".d Professor Ron McCallum agrees that if Abbott installs "an isolated, hand-picked group of people to hear appeals", then "the whole Commission could be in danger".e

Ahead of the Commission's hearings on changes to the minimum wage, ACCI told reporters it "supported an independent tribunal continuing to adjust minimum wages"—but if the Commission disagreed with ACCI's preferred approach, "then the legislation will need to be changed to make sure it happens".f It's easy to talk about trusting the independent umpire if you're going to install your mates to tell the umpire what to do.

7. Abbott will strip civil rights from building workers.

Abbott has waged a long war against building workers. He established the Cole Royal Commission, a $66 million witch-hunta that provided the pretext for establishing a Gestapo-like industrial police force.b The Building Industry Taskforce and its successor, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, were found by judges to be "hopeless", "undemocratic", "authoritarian", and "foreign to the workplace relations of civilised societies".c It has been criticised by a Commissioner for creating disputes by encouraging employers to take an adversarial approach to union safety inspections, conducting biased investigations, and putting words in the mouths of witnesses, and destroying notes.d,e This is an attack on safety in one of Australia's most dangerous industries—statistics suggest that construction workers died as a result of Abbott's ideological campaign.f But despite this track record of bias and incompetence, Abbott is threatening to restore the draconian powers of the ABCC—including allowing members of the public to be hauled off like terrorists for secret interrogations, which they are forbidden from discussing even with their families.g

And we know it's not "lawlessness" that Abbott wants to stamp out, but unions. His policy talks about alleged threats made over an employer's refusal to negotiate. When a judge heard the case, he made no findings that workers had threatened anyone; on the other hand, he had "grave concerns" about the dubious evidence of the employer's IR consultant: "elements of her conduct suggested she had attempted to set [the union organiser] up."h In his judgment, he said there was a "serious concern" that she had broken the law.i No mention of that from Abbott (although the IR consultant has given his policy two thumbs upj). Similarly, he wants to unleash the ABCC on workers who have protested against Grocon over safety—without mentioning that the ongoing revelations about Grocon's "little regard for safety",k,l or the fact that it has been caught underpaying workers.m But Abbott is not concerned about bad bosses. He's on an ideological crusade against the building unions that save workers' lives.

a. Andrew West, Howard's construction inquiry bore little fruit, The Age, 5 March 2009

b. John Lloyd, Australian Building and Construction Commissioner, Press Conference, 15 September 2005

c. Robert Corr, Bashing unions ain't cheap, Red Rag, 23 April 2005

d. Trevor Cormack, ABCC slammed for dodgy tactics, Solidarity, 30 August 2007

e. Ben Schneiders, ABCC officials 'lost' key notes, The Age, 7 February 2012

f. Bernard Keane, When dead workers weren't so important, Crikey, 3 March 2010

g. Andrew West, Even bystanders feel building watchdog's bite, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2007

h. Judge questions 'James Bond' consultant's evidence in coercion case, Workplace Express, 12 February 2013

i. Judgment of Marshall J, Fair Work Building Inspectorate v AFMEPKIU, Federal Court of Australia, 14 February 2013

j. Grace Collier, Abbott's industrial relations policy packs a powerful punch, Australian Financial Review, 13 May 2013

k. Clay Lucas & Ben Schneiders, Grocon's safety failures, The Age, 25 April 2013

l. Ben Schneiders & Clay Lucas, Grocon 'had little regard for safety', The Age, 6 May 2013

m. Clay Lucas, Grocon found to have underpaid workers, The Age, 5 November 2012

8. The Coalition will stop unions talking to workers.

Giving union officials access to workplaces is essential to give workers real freedom of association. Disturbingly, this is one of the areas in which Abbott is openly calling for a return to WorkChoices—he says his new right of entry laws will be "modelled on" the restrictive rules that were overturned by the Fair Work Act. Research shows that a large proportion of people who were not in a union would prefer to be a member—as many as 1.5 million potential membersa—and that workers who were on AWAs under WorkChoices were more likely to want to join a union.b Restricting discussions between unions and those potential members denies them their freedom of association.

Under current rules, unions are only allowed to access workplaces to hold discussions during break times, but Abbott's plan would allow employers to hide them away—for example, putting them in an isolated meeting room where employees need to walk past the boss's office and identify themselves for anti-union harrassment later. It is a plan to give workers access to their union in a formal, legalistic sense, but to deny them that right in practice. Abbott's rules would allow aggressive employers to block unions from ever accessing their workplace to talk with potential members. In the mining industry, with fly-in-fly-out staff living in dongas on site, that means unions have no access to workers outside working hours, either. Abbott's policy is offering big mining companies the opportunity to completely lock out unions.

a. 2.5 million Australians belong to a trade union—and a further 1.5 million want to join them, Finding 3928, Roy Morgan, 17 November 2005

b. Brigid van Wanrooy et al, Australia at Work: The Benchmark Report, Workplace Research Centre, University of Sydney, September 2007

9. Abbott will tie up unions in bureaucratic red tape.

Of course, all of that assumes that unions will have the time or resources to make visits to workplaces. Abbott plans to create a new Registered Organisations Commission to bury unions in paperwork, distracting them from their core business of looking after their members' interests. Abbott's policy summary claims he would require unions to "play by the same rules as companies and directors"—but when you read the fine print, you discover that the Corporations Act is just a "starting point" and the real obligations will be determined after the election.

We can see how this might play out by looking at Queensland, with its new bill imposing financial restrictions on unions that are designed to prevent them from participating in election campaigns.a It is so draconian that even the right-wing IPA calls it "a thinly-veiled attempt to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of political participation", hidden under "the usual rhetoric about transparency and accountability".b

Farcically, Abbott's micromanagement of unions would extend to a mandatory "written simple, one-page pie chart breakdown" of their expenditure—despite the fact that pie charts are an ineffective way to convey meaningful data.c This is a perfect illustration of Abbott's motivation, which is to bog unions down in bureaucratic administrivia, regardless of whether it actually benefits members. The hope is that unions will be so tied up in red tape they won't be able to campaign in their members' best interest—that is, against the Abbott government.

a. Graeme Orr, Industrial relations Bill sinks boot into union campaigning, The Courier-Mail, 10 May 2013

b. Simon Breheny, Queensland IR changes threaten free speech, Freedom Watch, IPA, 6 May 2013

c. Stephen Few, Save the Pies for Dessert, Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter, August 2007

10. And Abbott will go even further after the election.

But the real threat comes from what Abbott's policy doesn't say. It is a deliberately vague political document, designed to deflect attention from WorkChoices while giving maximum room to move after the election. As ACTU president Ged Kearney colourfully analogised: "Mr Squiggle would begin with a few pen strokes on a blackboard, just as Mr Abbott did yesterday, and before you know it there would be a rocket or a bicycle and Mr Squiggle would have drawn it upside down so you would not even recognise what it was until he turned it the right-side up. That is what we have with the Coalition's 38-page, detail-shy document; the outline of a policy that will only become fully clear in time and probably when it is too late."a Professor Andrew Stewart says Abbott's policy is a "ticking time bomb" that "set[s] up the possibility of major changes".b

In fact, the whole Fair Work Act is up for negotiation, with the economic rationalists at the Productivity Commission to be given carte blanche to draft their fantasy IR system—and its last public statement on the issue was that the problem with WorkChoices was that it was not "adequately explained nor understood by the public".c If only the public saw the world through the eyes of the PC econocrats, they would learn to love their new life without penalty rates or job security. And just to be safe, the business lobby is being urged to draft the rules for the Productivity Review, and Abbott to consider "the appointment of more than one commissioner" to ensure "the right people" run the review—stacking the umpire again.d

Abbott says he would "seek a mandate" before implementing the new Productivity Commission version of WorkChoices, but you only have to look at conservative States to see what these promises are worth. Ted Baillieu promised that Victorian teachers would be "the best paid in Australia", before ditching the pledge immediately after the election.e Campbell Newman promised that he would not cut public service jobs beyond "natural attrition",f and he promised "no future privatisation of public assets unless a mandate had been sought at an election".g After the election, though, he commissioned a dodgy audit and used it to justify sacking 14,000 people,h,i the sale of public assets like government buildings,j and the closure and sale of public schools (transferring capital funding to the private sector)k,l Abbott endorsed Newman's broken promises, saying "unfortunately tough decisions just have to be made".m And of course WorkChoices was introduced without going to an election.

The pressure is on—the Business Council is already telling Abbott that "employers did not have time to wait" for further change;n Liberal Party powerbrokers are urging business to "start campaigning in October for substantial changes if Mr Abbott wins the September 14 election"o—yes, they want to wait until after the election before making their demands. Meanwhile, Liberal MPs are already repudiating official policy, saying there is "room to maneouvre after the election".p,q This is an orchestrated strategy that has been used in the Coalition States. There's no reason to think Abbott won't fall in line when business unleashes its campaign to restore WorkChoices.

a. Ged Kearney, Abbott's real motives on IR in the dearth of detail, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 2013

b. Stewart questions Coalition's plan for FWC independent appeal jurisdiction, Workplace Express, 10 May 2013

c. Geoff Winestock, Banks slams failures on productivity, Australian Financial Review, 1 November 2012

d. Reith urges business to write PC inquiry reference, questions new head's enthusiasm for IR change, Workplace Express, 16 May 2013

e. Victorian premier Ted Baillieu quiet on teachers' pay rise, The Australian/AAP, 7 December 2010

f. A public service to serve Queensland, Media Release, Liberal National Party, 22 March 2012

g. No privatisation of public assets without a mandate, Media Release, Liberal National Party, 22 February 2012

h. List: Job cuts by portfolio, Brisbane Times, 11 September 2012

i. Queenslanders speak out about LNP job cuts, ABC News, 17 September 2012

j. Opposition slams sell-off of Brisbane CBD buildings, Sunshine Coast Daily, 19 April 2013

k. Tanya Chilcott & Sarah Vogler, Campbell Newman accused of attack on state schools with capital funding boost for Independent and Catholic sectors, Courier Mail, 6 March 2012

l. Alison Sandy & Tanya Chilcott, Queensland Government scheme to close 'unviable' schools could see sell-off completed in less than a year, Courier Mail, 29 April 2013

m. Kelmeny Fraser, Opposition leader Tony Abbott defends Queensland Premier Campbell Newman's tough decisions on Budget, The Sunday Mail, 22 September 2012

n. Michael Smith, Employers: IR reform now, not later, Australian Financial Review, 13 May 2013

o. Abbott faces criticism over IR policy, Nine News, 10 May 2013

p. Ewin Hannan, Peter Reith to Liberals: go harder on IR, The Australian, 16 May 2013

q. Jonathon Swan, Liberal MPs want rethink on Coalition's climate change plan, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 2013