The prospect of an economic downturn must not be used by business as an excuse to delay or alter improvements to our industrial relations system that Australians voted for at the last election.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said Australians had sent a clear message that rights at work must be protected in good times and bad.
“The best buffer we have against a serious recession is to ensure that the spending power of working families is maintained to meet their financial obligations and keep domestic demand ticking over,” Ms Burrow said.
“Every job lost is a shared social tragedy that reverberates beyond the individual worker.
“But let’s be clear of one thing: short-changing working families is not the solution for them or for the economy. Nor is retaining the discredited WorkChoices laws.”
Ms Burrow said job protection needed to be the main focus of government and employers over the next year.
She said a knee-jerk response of redundancies and retrenchments would not only extract a human toll, but would be counter-productive for employers and the economy.
Instead, businesses should seek to redeploy staff, reduce excessive hours, and invest in retraining and reskilling their workforce to position themselves for the eventual recovery from the global economic crisis, Ms Burrow said.
She said measures to safeguard jobs, stimulate the economy, and protect vulnerable Australians must be the top national focus for employers and governments over the next 12 months.
“The new business mantra for 2009 must be the three Rs: retain, reskill and redeploy,” Ms Burrow said.
“Clever thinking will see business through these tough times without widescale job-shedding. Smart employers know that if they hold onto their workers during the downturn, they will be well-placed for when the recovery begins.
“With targeted government assistance, businesses can use the slowdown to retool and reskill their employees, saving tens of thousands of jobs and equipping the Australian workforce with the skills to drive growth and competitiveness as the economy picks up.
“Other measures can include reducing production hours and, by agreement, making use of leave entitlements to manage through the downturn as an alternative to cutting jobs.
Ms Burrow said further stimulus measures would be necessary on top of those announced before Christmas to prevent and minimise job losses, assist workers where job losses do occur, and improve the circumstances and future prospects of unemployed Australians.