Senator Eric Abetz
Senator Eric Abetz john mccutcheon

Unions fear Work Choices return driving work relations probe

UNIONS are feeding fears of a return to the Howard-era Work Choices legislation, as the Abbott Government orders a wide-ranging inquiry into the workplace relations framework.

Leaked draft terms of reference for the Productivity Commission inquiry said it would examine employee conditions, red tape, productivity and the ability of business to "respond appropriately to changing economic conditions".

At pains to avoid comparisons with the Work Choices laws that saw the Coalition lose power in 2007, Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz said on Friday the inquiry would do "nothing more, nothing less" than that promised before the election.

He described the commission's inquiry as "a comprehensive and broad review of the laws", saying the Australian Council of Trade Unions as part of the consultation phase on the inquiry.

But he said despite reports saying penalty rates and "union militancy" would form part of the inquiry, he would not confirm nor deny any such inclusions in the review's terms of reference.

Rather, Sen Abetz warned Labor and the ACTU not to run a "deliberate scare campaign" about the review, saying any changes to workers conditions were "in the context of fair and equitable pay and conditions".

But ACTU chief Ged Kearney told reporters on Friday the inquiry showed the government was "getting its marching orders from big business".

She said the inquiry was "the wrong people doing the wrong thing at the wrong time", describing the inquiry as "absolutely a return to Work Choices".

"The business lobby is very clearly getting their way with this government," Ms Kearney said.

The review will also examine the Fair Work Act's "performance against its stated aims and objects, and the impact on jobs, income and the economy".

It will also hold public hearings and be open for submissions from stakeholders, before a final report is given to the government in April next year.