Are you concerned about your future working conditions and job prospects?
Thinking of voting for Tony Abbott this Saturday? If you are a Health Professional and value your job security and workplace conditions, you’d be well advised to reconsider.
With days to go before the federal election, opinion polls suggest that Australians are poised to dump the Rudd Government and take a chance on Tony. Barring a sudden reversal in voter sentiment, by this time next week Abbott will be moving into the Lodge.
However much many of you who work in the health sector may dislike Abbott and what he stands for, you have to acknowledge how successfully he has campaigned to discredit Kevin Rudd and Labor, while managing to avoid or deflect serious scrutiny of his own agenda.
If he succeeds on Saturday, one of the keys to this happening will have been his ability to reassure voters that he is not going to do anything radical. This will be particularly true of his statements on industrial relations where, having been punished at the 2007 election over WorkChoices, the Coalition says it has now learned its lesson and will never try anything like it again.
But in the fine print of the official Coalition workplace policy, and in the detail of Abbott’s campaign launch speech a couple of weeks back, a different story can be found. For Health Professionals — particularly those of you working in the public sector — there is plenty to fear from the prospect of an Abbott government.
At his IR policy launch earlier this year, Abbott declared: “I want to assure all the workers of Australia, unionised and non-unionised, that they can trust their future in our hands.”
But by the time of his campaign launch, the language had toughened. Abbott spoke then of changing industrial relations laws to swing the pendulum back ‘’to the sensible’’ centre. It doesn’t require much of a leap to see that this means further eroding the industrial power of workers and unions, and enhancing the relative position of employers.
For example, he wants to introduce new restrictions on union officials entering workplaces. This heralds a new intrusion on the critical rights of employees to union representation in the workplace.
Labor has already tightened the rules on this area, following pressure from some big employers alleging excessive visits by union officials. Now, under Abbott’s plans on ‘right-of-entry’, it seems we are to face more potential obstacles to protecting and promoting your rights and conditions at work.
He has also foreshadowed other changes to the Fair Work system aimed at protecting employers and making life more difficult for unions. These include further restrictions on collective bargaining and the rights of unions to negotiate on behalf of employees as well as more curbs on industrial action – as if the current laws weren’t already incredibly harsh and weighted towards employers.
And Abbott has made it clear that more changes to IR laws are likely to be put on the table as a result of his plan for a Productivity Commission review into the Fair Work Act.
Perhaps more worrying still are recent statements by the Coalition’s shadow minister for Industrial Relations, Eric Abetz. In a telling media interview that even sent shivers through his own camp, Abetz publicly flagged the idea of an Abbott government intervening in wage settlements by the industrial umpire if they were thought to be excessively generous. Scary stuff.
It is not just for his IR policies that Health Professionals should beware of Tony Abbott; there is also much to worry about when it comes to his control of public health sector financing.
Abbott is openly committed to reducing government spending as a percentage of the economy and making savage cuts to get the budget back on track for a surplus. And despite his protestations to the contrary, it is hard to see how this can be achieved without taking an axe to spending in the biggest areas of spending, headed by health and public hospitals.
The Coalition’s support for universal public health care has always been grudging; it is philosophically disposed towards private provision and user pays in both health-care and education, as evidenced by its engineering of incremental privatisation in both sectors during the Howard years.
Abbott is poised to continue this trend in health, starting with his promise to scrap Labor’s means test on the private health insurance rebate – a measure that will give fresh impetus to the expansion of the private hospital sector.
This of itself is no cause for concern from the perspective of health professionals. Indeed, many of you have benefited from the recent expansion of employment opportunities in the private sector.
But it is hard to be optimistic about the prospects for the public health system under an Abbott prime ministership. If he and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey are true to their rhetoric on running a lean government, you can be assured that the next three years will see more extreme financial pressure brought to bear on an already broken public hospital system. The consequences for patients and for those who work in the system will be plain to see.
At the Victorian Health Professionals Association, we are not advocating a vote for any particular parties or candidates in Saturday’s federal election. But this we can say with some conviction: if you are even slightly concerned about your future working conditions and employment prospects as a Health Professional, you should vote for someone other than your local Liberal or Nationals candidate.
Craig McGregor, VHPA Secretary
The VHPA is an independent organisation that is not aligned with any political party and nor has it made any political donations. However, we are passionately committed to fairness, equality and opportunity in the workplace and the wider community.