super rich, working poor - a la usa - oui!

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    Justice Michael Kirby has hit out at opponents of Australia's industrial relations system, at a conference in Melbourne celebrating the centenary of conciliation and arbitration in Australia.

    The former deputy president of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission says people who attack conciliation and arbitration need to be put in their place.

    "There is no room in this nation for industrial ayatollahs," Justice Kirby said.

    "Ours is a more temperate and open-minded society."

    Justice Kirby says some people wish to see the Industrial Relations Commission "closed down lock, stock, and barrel" or "converted into a mediatory body with no legal powers of arbitration or intervention".

    "Persons of such views tend to live in a remote world of fantasy inflaming themselves into their rhetoric into more and more unreal passions usually engaging in serious dialogue only with comfortable persons of the same persuasion," he said.

    "For the rest of us, who live in the real world and know our country and its institutions better, time will not be wasted over such fairy tales."

    IR agenda

    After Justice Kirby's attack, federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews told the conference of the Howard Government's industrial relations (IR) reform program.

    Mr Andrews says the Government is concerned about boosting employment, and the Industrial Relations Commission needs to show more interest in the economic conditions necessary to create jobs.

    "It is why the Australian Government has proposed legislation to require more weight to be given to the needs of the unemployed in safety net decisions," Mr Andrews said.

    Mr Andrews says the Government will also introduce legislation to protect the rights of people working as independent contractors.

    "More than 1 million Australians now work as independent contractors, rather than employees," he said.

    "This is a conscious and free choice, and one which the Government respects.

    "This stream of the workforce is outside the jurisdiction of the traditional industrial relations system and, I would argue, complements it."

    But Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharon Burrow says the Government's agenda includes an attack on the minimum wage.

    "So that you can actually pay people less and less and less, with an ambition to set up what is effectively the American model of the working poor," she said.

    "This is a dreadfully extreme vision of Australia's working future, where you have reduced wages, reduced entitlements, no guarantee of even a paid holiday with your family."
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