Spotlight on AWAs made Beazley see the light

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Spotlight on AWAs made Beazley see the light

The move by the Spotlight haberdashery chain to cut out overtime and penalty rates for new employees in return for a two cents an hour wage rise was what convinced ALP Leader Kim Beazley that AWAs had to abolished.

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The move by the Spotlight haberdashery chain to cut out overtime and penalty rates for new employees in return for a two cents an hour wage rise was what convinced ALP Leader Kim Beazley that AWAs had to abolished.

Beazley told the NSW ALP State Conference at the weekend that if he is elected to government at the next federal election he will abolish AWAs.

'Spotlight changed my mind,' Beazley later told ABC radio. 'That was proof positive … that these things are poisonous and there's no saving them.'

In Parliament and in media interviews Beazley has highlighted the case of Annette Harris, who had worked at a Spotlight store in Coffs Harbour for two years.

Uproar

Harris was offered one of the contracts on her return to work from unpaid leave when the company said it would regard the absence as a termination.

Under the new agreement, she would have lost about $90 a week in penalty rates. But following uproar in Parliament and in the media, she was reoffered her job at her old pay rate.

When Prime Minister John Howard was asked about the 57-year-old's case, his response was that the real measure of industrial relations policy was its effect on the national economy, not on individuals.

This week Beazley has also drawn attention to the case of Melbourne grandmother Karen Palmer, who was sacked last week by a Coolaroo wire manufacturer for being 'a liability'. She had recently returned to work after a workplace injury to her shoulder.

Rights lost

In question time in Parliament yesterday Labor asked a series of questions relating to AWAs, pointing out that Palmer had lost her unfair-dismissal rights and job security as a result of the Government's laws.

Howard said people on AWAs earn on average 13% more than those on collective workplace agreements, which are often negotiated with the help of unions. Of course many executives are on individual agreements.

Howard accused Beazley of wanting to destroy the 'aspirational prosperity' of Australians by removing incentives available under the new workplace laws.

The Government's Employment Advocate, Peter McIlwain, last month revealed that every AWA in a sample of 250 had removed at least one protected award condition. There have been 6263 contracts registered under the new laws.

Common law

Beazley has not ruled out all forms of individual contracts under his plan to abolish AWAs, but has indicated that common law contracts were preferable.

Australian Business Ltd spokesman Paul Ritchie said these would be too 'complex and costly'.

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