MORE THAN three-quarters of Australian workers believe the Federal Government's WorkChoices regime will have a negative impact, according to an academic study.
Public and political backlash over the Federal Government's WorkChoices legislation has intensified in recent weeks, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators protesting against the reforms and reports suggesting that some of Australia's biggest companies - including NAB, Telstra, Foster's, Woolworths, Bluescope Steel and Woodside Petroleum would not push individual work agreements or cut benefits.
The first major study of workers since the introduction of the controversial reforms, found that two-thirds said the reforms would have a negative impact on job security, with a further 16 per cent expecting a "very negative" impact. Additionally, 61 per cent of the 1,428 executives, managers and employees polled believe employee wages will be negatively impacted because of the changes. The fear of lower wages was more acute among general employees than executives.
The study, which was produced by Australian Institute of Management Victoria and Tasmania (AIMVT), also found that despite a record $55 million spend on promoting the reforms through advertising, many employees and employers remain in the dark. Around two-thirds of those polled said they had little to no knowledge of the reforms. Of the 37.5 per cent that expect a moderate to very good impact from the reforms were business owners, CEOs, senior executives and managers.
Observers said that despite the huge cost of the Government's promotional campaign, it had failed to educate employees. "Clearly there has been a failure to effectively communicate the detail and implications of the legislation in a way that is meaningful and appropriate for all levels of workers," said Susan Herron, AIMVT's CEO.
Prime Minister John Howard admitted in early July that the industrial relations reforms will be a major issue at the next Federal Election, but added that there will be no pushback on the laws. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), however, said the reforms could backfire on the Government. "In these reforms John Howard has overplayed his hand," ACTU assistant secretary Richard Marles told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia luncheon recently. "There is no doubt, all the polling out there's saying this - this issue is completely toxic for the government."
Herron said both the Government and business have a responsibility to step up to the challenge of better informing, educating and reassuring the workplace, if they can.
"People are wary of what they don't understand, sometimes with good reason," she said.
Despite the perception that many employees do not support the WorkChoices changes, Howard insists there is a 'silent majority' that support the reforms wholeheartedly. "You know the old story about silent majorities - 98, 99 per cent of people didn't participate in the rallies, so I don't think we should be too impressed by some thousands of people demonstrating," he told ABC radio after the nationwide rallies.
While the debate shows signs it may continue to descend into political name-calling, there are genuine concerns that the impact of the changes may not be felt for some years. Commentary accompanying the study suggested that many, including employers, believe unscrupulous employers may take advantage. However, some also predicted that while there may be some negative impact on pay and conditions, the reforms could create short-term jobs.