Labor to take on Senate over abolition of AWAs

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Labor to take on Senate over abolition of AWAs

Labor is planning to try to push its first wave of IR legislation through the Senate quickly, and is prepared to confront the Opposition-dominated Upper House on the issue.

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Labor is planning to try to push its first wave of IR legislation through the Senate quickly, and is prepared to confront the Opposition-dominated Upper House on the issue.

The Coalition will maintain its majority in the Senate until 30 June, while the new Senators elected in November do not take their place until 1 July.

Labor will introduce transitional legislation abolishing AWAs in February, once the new Parliament begins sitting on 12 February.

Opposition delaying tactics

However the Opposition is threatening to put the matter to a Senate inquiry and delay the whole matter until June. Opposition Senate Leader Nick Minchin told The Age newspaper he doubted the Senate could hold a proper inquiry and debate and pass the legislation in just two weeks in March.

‘If the bill is seeking to enact the abolition of AWAs, that is very significant given AWAs have been an integral part of our IR laws for 11 years,’ he said.

‘The point is to allow the Australian public to express its views and on the current Senate timetable, there is every chance the legislation may not be dealt with until that June fortnight.’

Democrat senator Andrew Murray also said an inquiry - including advertising for submissions, hearing evidence and writing a report - could take two months, which would delay a vote until early May or mid-June.

Urgent matter

However IR Minister Julia Gillard said the matter was urgent and the Government had a mandate to abolish AWAs.

‘In those circumstances where the urgency is clear, where people can be asked to sign AWAs that take away compensation - we would expect them to be weighing that up, bearing in mind the need for debate and scrutiny,’ she said.

‘The proposition is: are you for or against WorkChoices AWAs? - if you are against WorkChoices AWAs, you will vote for Labor’s bill.’

Wide consultation

Meanwhile Labor is trying to gather support for its overall IR legislation by consulting widely with business, unions and the States over the next two weeks.

Tomorrow the National Workplace Relations Consultative Committee, which has delegates from unions and employer groups, will meet - and then will meet again before the laws are introduced in the House of Representatives, most likely on 13 February.

It will be briefed on the transition legislation and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will permit early drafts of the transitional laws to be shown to the committee’s technical experts.

No disadvantage

The transitional bill will include a no disadvantage test for new agreements, which will be based on the relevant award or collective agreement as well as the current Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard. This Committee meeting will be followed by a meeting of the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council - a body which was effectively abandoned by the Howard Government when it unilaterally introduced the WorkChoices laws without consultation.

No agenda for the meeting has been announced, but it is expected to cover the planned IR reforms.

It is expected that draft national employment standards, which will be part of the legislative safety net, will be released at the same time as the transitional bill.

These standards will cover such areas as parental leave, flexible work arrangements, carer’s leave and redundancy.

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