This is a real issue for Kevin Rudd, as the resulting workforce inflexibility will both severely restrict Australia's ability to compete on the world stage and lead to extremely difficult circumstances for Australian families should there be a world economic downturn in the same way that Bob Hawke's union Accord caused so much misery during the 'recession we had to have'.
If Rudd can keep the unions from wrecking things, which Labor's pre-election IR policies would achieve, then Australia should continue to prosper.
It will be a good test of his leadership.
THE ACTU has claimed credit for snaring 24 marginal Coalition seats for Labor in Saturday's federal election after a campaign that targeted at least 240,000 union members.
The boast by Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow yesterday was a strong reminder to Kevin Rudd that unions expect full restoration of rights, such as collective bargaining, as a reward for theirsupport.
Ms Burrow said the ACTU's battle plan in 25 marginal seats, including a computer program to recruit members to help in the fight, was largely responsible for Labor's historic win.
Her comments came amid the revelation that unions planned to continue their fight if necessary, this time against Labor, with a million-dollar "war chest".
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson, critical of the prime minister-elect for not recognising the union role in Labor's victory, told The Australian: "We always said we were going to keep the campaign going after the election. One reason we've seen the government pass such extreme laws is that people were not organised in workplaces, and we're never going to let that happen again."
Mr Robertson voiced his frustration with Labor in July for watering down its industrial relations policy, telling supporters he would "pull Kevin Rudd on once he's prime minister".
Mr Rudd, who told Mr Robertson to "take a cold shower" in July, yesterday rejected the NSW union chief's push to have Labor abolish the Howard government's Australian Workplace Agreements retrospectively.
The Labor leader said the party's revamped industrial relations laws would be a priority, but said: "Mr Robertson is wrong. We will adhere to the implementation agenda of our industrial relations policy as outlined during the election."
National Union of Workers NSW chief Derrick Belan said Labor could deal with many changes immediately by regulation, and not wait for legislation to be introduced into parliament next year. "(Incoming workplace relations minister) Julia (Gillard) should deal with it immediately," Mr Belan said.
"Workers backed them and they should keep their promise."
Mr Belan was also critical of ACTU leaders Ms Burrow and Jeff Lawrence for going soft on Labor by accepting a "step-by-step approach" to changes.
"That's not an unexpected answer from those two," he said. "I believe they're both on their way to parliament."
Ms Burrow said the ACTU believed its campaign made a big difference to how people voted.
"Clearly the impact was deeper in those seats where we had concerted visibility for up to two years." She said eight out of 10 people who voted Labor said industrial relations was the number one issue in exit polls.
"Even the government is acknowledging that Work Choices was their downfall."
Dean Mighell, the outspoken leader of the Electrical Trades Union in Victoria, said he had "no confidence" in Ms Gillard to address union concerns in Labor legislation.
"I think she's got to win the trust of people who supported her for a long, long time, who might have turned a blind eye to some of the less union-friendly comments she made during the election campaign, and hoped she remembers where she came from and all the people who helped her to get to where she is," he said.