Employers – listen up: Even if you want to be fair to your employees, the government is going to make it illegal for you to spell it out in the contract


Australian Broadcasting Corporation
LOCATION: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2006/s1596564.htm
Broadcast: 20/03/2006

IR laws ‘Communist-like controls’

Reporter: Dana Robertson

TONY JONES: The battle lines are again being drawn between the Government and the union movement over changes to industrial relations laws. Over the weekend, the Government released the regulations which detail how its new workplace relations system will operate when it comes into effect in a week’s time. Under the new rules, the industrial relations commission will have to supply the Government with weekly reports on industrial disputes, and the Minister will be able to intervene if he believes strikes are threatening the economy. It’s a move the unions have compared to communist-style control.

Oh my, what a surprise! A long standing body of review – the Industrial Relations Commission – has had its sovereignty usurped by a Howard government minister through new legislation. Even if an industrial action is considered legal – after going through a barrage of obligatory government requirements, designed to be as obstructive as possible – the minister will be able to force the workers back to work.

Dana Robertson reports from Canberra.

DANA ROBERTSON: The ACTU says it’s 400 pages of detail even it didn’t expect.

GREG COMBET, ACTU SECRETARY: The extent of the regulation of some of these prohibited matters has surprised us.

DANA ROBERTSON: The regulations outline exactly how the new workplace relations system will work. From next Monday, it’ll be illegal for employment agreements to contain a range of outcomes, even if they’re negotiated between employers and their staff. The so-called “prohibited content” includes: Payroll deductions of union fees. The right of entry for union officials to work sites. Leave to attend union run training. Protections against unfair dismissal.

STEPHEN SMITH, OPPOSITION INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS SPOKESMAN: The Minister determines that no unfair dismissal rights will apply even is an employer and employee agree as part of their employment arrangements.

KEVIN ANDREWS, WORKPLACE RELATIONS MINISTER: The Government’s view is that the employment arrangement should relate to employment conditions and terms and conditions of employment itself – not to a whole range of extraneous matters.

DANA ROBERTSON: Union officials who defy the new laws face fines of up $33,000. Greg Combet says he won’t pay.

GREG COMBET: I will ask for people to be treated fairly and I’m not going to pay a fine for doing it.

Right… extraneous matters. The worker has gone, cap in hand, into negotiations for their job. They happen to be blessed with an employer with a social conscience who allows them to be a member of a union and is willing to facilitate that. Nevertheless, the minister dictates that this is illegal.

DANA ROBERTSON: The regulations also reveal that the Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, will receive a weekly report on industrial disputes around the country. The union movement says it smacks of Communist-style control.

BILL SHORTEN, AUSTRALIAN WORKERS’ UNION: We’ve got the Minister who’s going to become the new commissar, or secret policeman, of workplace relations. I mean, I’d have thought he’d have more important things to do.

KEVIN ANDREWS: What the Minister can do under these provisions is end the bargaining period and get the parties off to the IRC so the matter can be resolved – that’s eminently sensible.

DANA ROBERTSON: Kim Beazley’s labelled the regulations “400 pages of infamy”.

KIM BEAZLEY, OPPOSITION LEADER: It’s hitting the most vulnerable workers and making it harder for them.

DANA ROBERTSON: With the new laws set to come into force in a week’s time, the Government’s been accused of not giving enough notice of the start date. The unions and the opposition say it kept the regulations secret until the middle of the Commonwealth Games and after the South Australia Tasmanian elections.

John Howard’s flatly rejected any suggestion the Government’s deliberately stalled.


JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: If we hadn’t released it we’d have been attacked, but it’s not the detail, it’s the regulations. The detail was contained in legislation that passed the Parliament at the end of last year.

DANA ROBERTSON: Business can’t wait for the new laws to take effect.

PETER HENDY, CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY: There’ll be more control in the work place where employees and employers together can make their own decisions rather government heavy-handed … the heavy-handed government telling businesses and employees what to do.

DANA ROBERTSON: But unions are vowing that the fight against the changes has only just begun.

GREG COMBET: This will be, if we’re successful in our campaign, a defining point in Australian political history.

DANA ROBERTSON: Kevin Andrews maintains unions will still have a whole range of rights.

Oh… I forgot to mention… when I was talking about the understanding employer with the social conscience… that word picture was from fantasy land where they hang out at the chocolate fountain with Santa and the Easter Bunny. Back here on planet Earth, business can’t wait for the new laws to take effect.

  • March 21, 2006