Reports that another large employer has labelled the Howard government’s Industrial Relations laws as ‘farcical’ and ‘pointless’ is further evidence that the government’s IR laws are in ‘disarray’, says the Australian Congress of Trade Unions (ACTU).

‘A newspaper report . . . states the Australian Cleaning Contractors Association, which represents 150 contract cleaning companies, is on the verge of dumping Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA) because they find them “complex and confusing’’,’ the ACTU said.

‘The Australian Cleaning Contractors Association says the government’s workplace relations system has become “farcical” and “pointless” and is now considering returning to the award system or enterprise agreements.’

‘We had an AWA system in place that was getting rid of all the problems and complexities of awards, and now it’s more complex and confusing,’ the association’s executive director, John Laws, was quoted as saying.

Responding to the reports, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said: ‘We have always known these laws are bad for workers and we are now seeing employers decide they are also bad for business.

‘This week we have seen local councils that employ 50,000 workers writing to the Workplace Minister Joe Hockey saying they want to drop out of WorkChoices.

‘The national retailer Spotlight has also this week announced it is fed up with the WorkChoices laws and has abandoned the use of AWAs for its 6,000 staff.

‘The government’s WorkChoices IR laws are in tatters with major employers jumping ship almost every day and more and more workers saying they are worse off under the laws.’

The ACTU has renewed its call on the Howard government to ‘stop wasting taxpayers’ money on its misleading pro-WorkChoices advertising campaign’, following research showing the more the government runs the ads, the stronger the public opposes WorkChoices.

The ACTU last week released a new poll of 800 voters nationally that was conducted by Essential Research in late August.

The poll found two thirds (65 per cent) of voters believed the Federal Government’s advertising campaign on the IR laws was a waste of taxpayers’ money and made them more likely to vote against the government.

Releasing the results of the poll, Sharan Burrow reiterated: ‘The government’s WorkChoices ads are a con job.’

She said the ads represented a waste of taxpayers’ money to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

‘The simple fact is that the WorkChoices IR laws are bad for working families and the only way to fix the laws is to get rid of them.

‘The ads should be halted immediately,’ Burrow demanded.

The ACTU said: ‘The Federal Government is currently running a $33 million advertising campaign in newspapers, TV and radio to promote their IR laws.

‘Some of these ads feature the head of the Workplace Authority, Barbara Bennett, and show post-it notes with the words “know where you stand”.’

The ACTU’s poll asked: Have you seen or heard any of this advertising?

Sixty per cent had seen the advertising, 35 per cent had not and five per cent were not certain if they had or not.

Of those who remembered seeing the ads, the ACTU asked: Does this government campaign make you feel more favourable or less favourable to the government’s IR laws or does it make no difference?

Only 17 per cent said they were more supportive of the government’s laws; 33 became even more opposed; for 49 per cent the ads made no difference and one per cent weren’t sure.

The ACTU said big business groups ‘are currently running a $10 million advertising (campaign) in support of the government’s IR laws’ and oppose replacing AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements) with collective agreements.

The poll asked: Have you seen or heard any of this advertising?

Forty-four per cent said they had seen the advertising; 47 per cent hadn’t seen the advertising and nine per cent were unsure.

The ACTU asked: Does this business campaign make you more or less favourable to scrapping AWAs?

Twenty-seven per cent said the business campaign actually made them more favourable to scrapping the IR laws, with only 12 per cent feeling less favourable to doing so.

Sixty per cent said it made no difference and one per cent were unsure.

The ACTU poll went on to ask: Thinking about a Federal election and the IR laws, have you changed the party you intend to vote for or might you change the party you intend to vote for because of the IR laws?

Ten per cent said the laws had made them change the party they intend to vote for and 15 per cent said they might change the party they intend to fight for.

Seventy per cent said they haven’t and won’t change their voting intentions. Five per cent were unsure.

The poll asked: Which of these statements comes closest to your view –

• ‘John Howard has a lot more to contribute to public life in Australia’. (Just 35 per cent agreed);

• ‘John Howard is past his use-by date and it’s time he moved on’. (Sixty-one per cent agreed. Five per cent said ‘Don’t know’).

Meanwhile, the Howard government says it plans to crack down on benefit payments to the unemployed in some beach areas on the Australian coast.

Ministers say that some coastal towns have ‘stubbornly’ high unemployment, accusing the unemployed of refusing to work.

Yet official figures claim unemployment is at a 30-year low.

One option, says the government, would be to force the unemployed to work for their welfare payments a lot sooner than they have to at the moment.

Further Education Minister Andrew Robb said: ‘We’ve got too many jobs chasing too few people, yet there are still pockets of potential labour around the country.

‘There is a high correlation between high unemployment and coastal areas. We need to put some pressure in some of those areas.’

Australia’s official unemployment rate is just over four per cent, with claims that some industries are suffering a ‘chronic’ skills shortage.