Warnings of ‘ghost towns’

ONE of Tamworth’s largest employers has tossed a political grenade, warning regional centres could become “economic ghost towns” without urgent industrial relations (IR) reform.

Teys Australia, which contributes more than $100 million annually to the New England/North West economy, this week warned unless governments take dramatic steps to make it easier for businesses to operate, cities like Tamworth could be consigned to the financial abyss.

Teys general manager of corporate affairs Tom Maguire said governments needed to move on from the “political circus” surrounding former policies like WorkChoices and focus on “serious and real IR reform”.

“If this doesn’t happen, more manufacturers will close and because many are located in regional Australia, local economies and people’s lives will be devastated,” Mr Maguire said.

Mr Maguire said the beef processing company underpinned about 850 jobs in the Tamworth region.

He said business did not need direct government assistance, but a reduction of the barriers that stifle profitability.

“Without good company profits, there is no investment, no jobs and no future,” he said.

“The three areas of greatest need are the reform of labour arrangements, greater market access and a reduction of costs and charges on companies.

“We must remove the ability by unions to interfere with the relationships companies have with employees.”

He said while this sort of behaviour is allowed, “companies will lose money, jobs will disappear and business 

will look for cheaper options internationally.” 

Tamworth Business Chamber president Tim Coates said his organisation had long championed the need for IR reform, especially for small business.

“Tamworth businesses are 98 per cent small or medium enterprises and they struggle to deal with the red tape, especially around wage conditions and penalty rates,” Mr Coates said.

“A simplification of IR laws would add value to our businesses and our economy.

“We’ve always said we’re not averse to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work but there needs to be a rationalisation of what work is.”

“Our members find Mr Maguire’s comments relating to seeking further IR reforms quite offensive, as productivity from his own employees in the New England region are well above national benchmarks – in some cases 30 per cent above,” Australian Meat Workers Union secretary Grant Courtney said.

“The facts reflect Teys and other meat companies in the last 12 months have enjoyed massive increases in production and profits, compliments of record low stock prices due to producers off-loading stock.

“No fair-minded citizen of New England would disagree that producers are bleeding and meat companies, not their employees, are reaping the benefits.

“I would suggest Mr Maguire needs to calm down as the sky has not fallen in due to the current workplace laws, as employers and their employees have the right to be represented on an equal playing field.”

The nation’s Fair Work Act is being reviewed by the Productivity Commission, with the Abbott government expected to take its recommendations to the next election.

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