Unions and employers have pledged a new era of unity, as the government begins a major shake-up of industrial relations laws to kick-start the economy devastated by coronavirus.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus has promised to genuinely listen to employers.
“We’re going to give it a go and we reckon that’s worth it for working people,” Ms McManus told the Nine Network on Wednesday.
The working group meetings are aimed at reshaping Australian workplaces battered by the pandemic.
Under review will be awards, enterprise bargaining agreements, casual work, union and employer misconduct, and “greenfields” agreements that set flat wages and conditions throughout the lifetime of a construction project.
“I think for a long time we’ve been in our corners and seen things through a prism of WorkChoices really,” Ms McManus said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was time for all parties involved to “put down their weapons”.
“It’s a consensus-based process,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio.
Asked if he would guarantee that workers won’t be worse off as a result of the negotiations, Mr Morrison said the debate shouldn’t be so black and white.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the whole point of the talks, which will continue until September, was to ensure people were better off.
“How different parties to this consultation and negotiation process measure whether or not someone is better off is going to differ from party to party,” he said in Perth.
“The whole point of the process is we want people to be better off because you’re much worse off if you don’t have a job.”
He expected each of the working groups to produce “solutions”, but admitted the level of agreement around some of those solutions would vary.
Ms McManus considers the definition of secure work and flexibility in negotiations the key issues to address.
Unions will fight declines in pay or conditions but will look for common ground on enterprise agreements.
“We know this is unchartered territory under a Liberal government … we are prepared to participate in good faith,” Ms McManus said.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said employers were willing to put the past behind them.
“We are all doing this for the people who need their jobs back,” she told the ABC.
Ms Westacott welcomed news the government had ditched laws making it easier to deregister unions and ban officials.
“We need to focus on the task at hand.”