WORKERS throughout the Clarence Valley will be better off under the Howard Government's proposed industrial relations reforms, according to Federal Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) country and regional coordinator David Lyons said the union believed unskilled workers would be worse off under the changes and would be forced to work for lower pay.

Big River Timbers managing director Jim Bindon said while the full details of the changes were yet to be released, it appeared the company would not be any worse off.

Christ Church Cathedral Dean Peter Catt said his biggest concern about the changes was the affect they would have on vulnerable workers.

They were just some of the reactions from people throughout the Valley yesterday in the wake of Prime Minister John Howard's proposed changes to Australia's industrial relations laws, which he announced on Sunday afternoon.

The sweeping changes to the law will focus on four main areas ? creating a new Fair Pay Commission, promoting Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), overriding state industrial relations systems and cutting back access to unfair dismissal laws for businesses with fewer than 100 workers.

Mr Hartsuyker said the changes were needed to keep Australia competitive in the world market.

"If we as a nation don't keep re- forming we are going to fall behind and the price of that will be flat or falling living standards for Australians," he said.

Mr Hartsuyker said the changes, among other things, would simplify the workplace agreement-making process, enshrine a minimum set of conditions in Federal legislation, provide modern award protections and provide protection against unlawful termination.

He said the changes would not cut minimum wages, abolish awards, abolish the right to join a union or take away the right for lawful industrial action.

Mr Hartsuyker said while he could not guarantee workers would not be worse off under the changes, on the whole they would bring benefits.

"At the end of the day, it's always going to be possible to find an isolated person who may or may not be better off under this agreement," he said.

"(But) If you look at our record you will see the reforms we've put in place have paid dividends for the whole Australian economy and these reforms will provide the scope for greater well being through the community."

However, Mr Lyons said based on the Howard Government's record, workers could expect lower wages.

"Employees would be $50 a week worse off if the Industrial Relations Commission had taken the government's applications into consideration since 1997," he said. "So we would expect the Fair Pay Commission, especially since it's been handpicked by the government, that it will deliver a lower rate of pay for minimum wages in Australia."

Mr Lyons said the union was also worried about the prospect of more workers being forced to sign AWAs as they would strip away employees' rights.

"All those things people have had enshrined into awards for the last century, they'll be up for grabs and if you are in a vulnerable position ... you'll be forced to accept it," he said.

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