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Mark Davis, Political Correspondent
March 20, 2009

SENIOR Federal Government ministers plan an intense election-style campaign designed to direct worker anxiety over job losses against the Coalition and to put Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership under pressure if the Senate rejects Labor’s industrial relations legislation.

With the Government heading for a confrontation with the Senate, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, yesterday accused the Opposition of frustrating the electorate’s will on industrial relations and exposing workers to having entitlements such as redundancy pay ripped away as the economy slowed.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard, said 700,000 workers would lose protections against unfair sacking under Opposition-backed amendments to the Fair Work Bill.

The Government plans to use the Parliamentary recess to re-run the 2007 election debate on industrial relations if the Senate waters down Labor’s unfair dismissal protections.

Mr Rudd made it clear yesterday that the Government would not accept amendments increasing the number of small businesses exempt from the bill’s full suite of unfair dismissal rules.

Under the bill, businesses with less than 15 employees would be allowed to sack a worker within 12 months of hiring the employee without any redress under unfair dismissal rules.

The Opposition, Family First Senator Steve Fielding and South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon were last night expected to amend the bill to extend these special rules to all businesses with less than 20 employees on a full-time equivalent basis.

The Government plans to keep Parliament sitting on the weekend if necessary so it can use its numbers in the House of Representatives to reject these amendments and send the bill back to the Senate. If the Senate then insists on the amendments the legislation will be defeated.

That would mean Labor’s reforms – new national employment entitlements, minimum wage-fixing arrangements and stronger legal backing for unions and collective bargaining – would be stymied and the former Howard government’s Work Choices legislation would continue regulating workplaces.

Mr Turnbull has said the Opposition would insist on its amendments. If the Government can persuade either Senator Fielding or Senator Xenophon not to insist on the unfair dismissal amendment, the legislation will get through.

If the legislation is blocked, Labor will bring the bill back when Parliament resumes in winter, setting up a potential trigger for a double dissolution election if the Senate fails to pass the bill a second time.

Mr Rudd said the Liberal Party was split into two factions: purists, led by the former Treasurer Peter Costello, who wanted to deregulate the labour market and pretenders, led by Mr Turnbull, who wanted to avoid a backlash from voters on industrial relations.

He predicted that Mr Costello would take over the Liberal leadership from Mr Turnbull. “It will be like Frankenstein having the electrodes reconnected as far as Work Choices is concerned.”

http://www.smh.com.au/national/labor-to-undermine-turnbull-over-ir-laws-20090319-93cr.html?page=-1

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