THE nation's peak business group has called for a return to 1980s-style accords in a bid to unite warring political parties, unions and other interest groups for the common economic good.
The Business Council of Australia's president, Tony Shepherd, issued a ''plea'' at his organisation's annual dinner on Thursday night for members of the government, the opposition, unions and the business community to stop regarding each other as combatants.
''In the days of the Accord, different sectors were able to agree on a common purpose and a plan to foster productivity, competitiveness and growth,'' he said.
Plea for co-operation ... the Business Council president, Tony Shepherd. Photo: Jesse Marlow
''There is no reason we cannot do this again.''
On Friday, the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, will echo the sentiment in an address to the union movement in which he will spruik Labor's economic reforms but stress co-operation will be needed to exploit the opportunities presented by a growing Asia.
''Australia has always been at its best when we all work together and we need to pull together in the same way now,'' he will say.
In a separate speech also on Friday, the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, will take on the unions and the government when he singles out industrial relations laws as the key impediment to improving productivity.
Mr Willox will say this year has been one of disappointment for business and ''we simply cannot afford any more delay or regressive changes to workplace relations laws''. ''No matter which way you cut it, we have become a high-cost economy.''
The accords were a series of agreements negotiated by the Hawke Labor government in which unions agreed to wage restraint in return for indirect-financial trade-offs such as compulsory superannuation or social benefits such as Medicare.
The ACTU secretary, Dave Oliver, said it would be impossible to recreate the original accords because they relied on industry-wide bargaining so conditions could be applied across entire industries.
Today's industrial relations landscape had fragmented into workplace-specific agreements.
Nonetheless, Mr Oliver said the union movement was ''always happy'' to engage in tripartite talks with government and business ''to discuss the big issues confronting the economy and workers at large''.
But, with the Fair Work Act under review, he said the ACTU would fight diluting the laws, saying ''employers know the best way to improve productivity is through dialogue at an industry level''.
Mr Oliver maintained that ''flexibility'' was ''code for reduced wages and conditions''.
The Business Council has grown frustrated at the political impasse it feels is stymieing growth and creating poor policy, and is about to launch a campaign for change.
Industrial relations laws are squarely in its sights as well.
Mr Willox's speech will be aimed as much at the Coalition , which has yet to release its policy, given it could well win the next election, and traditionally has favoured a more deregulated workplace.
Mr Willox will not advocate a return to WorkChoices in which workers had their pay and conditions cut, but wants provisions of Labor's Fair Work Act amended or scrapped because they heavily favour unions and increase industrial unrest and business costs.
''I am not arguing to dismantle our safety nets or abandon the fundamentals of our workplace relations system,'' he said.
But there was ''plenty of scope'' elsewhere to improve productivity and living standards.
In a chip at the government and unions, he will say those who mount ''academic arguments'' that there are no links between industrial relations and productivity ''should talk to real employers''.