ALP policy to abolish AWAs may change, says Smith


ALP policy to abolish AWAs may change, says Smith

AWAs are not certain to be abolished by a Labor Government if it wins the next election, Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Stephen Smith has confirmed to WorkplaceInfo.


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AWAs are not certain to be abolished by a Labor Government if it wins the next election, Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Stephen Smith has confirmed to WorkplaceInfo.

In an exclusive interview, Smith said a Labor Government would not allow individual contracts to be used to undermine the existing wages and conditions of employees.

He admitted that at the last election the ‘formal’ policy of the Labor Party was to abolish AWAs.

Will policy change?

Asked if that policy might change, Smith replied: ‘Well, we won’t allow individual agreements to undermine current conditions and entitlements.

‘One legislative mechanism in effecting that is abolition, but there are other legislative mechanisms as well, as the experience in WA for example has shown with the state-based AWAs.

‘That’s a point of detail that we will get to in due course.

‘We have had strong views put to us that we should abolish AWAs and strong views put to us that we shouldn’t.

‘But one thing we won’t allow is individual con tracts to be used in a public policy, pernicious and evil way to undercut existing wages and conditions.’

Trading-off holidays etc

On the turmoil in Government ranks this week on trading-off public holidays, meals and smokos – last week Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vale said smokos and meal breaks would be made part of minimum conditions and yesterday Prime Minister Howard said they could continue to be traded-off – Smith said it is now ‘a matter not so much of the potential for trading off, what we are looking at now is the potential for those things to be lost without compensation, without a trade off’.

‘Currently we have 20 allowable matters and the no disadvantage test, so whenever someone wants to enter into an individual or a collective agreement the test assessed by the independent umpire is that you can’t be, in any overall sense, worse off regarding the 20 allowable matters.

‘The Government now say four of the allowable matters will be knocked off; long service leave, notice of termination, superannuation and jury duty.

‘Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has made the point that Kim Beazley and I made several weeks ago, which is that even in that bundle which they say is protected by existing legislation you’ll find some losers.

‘Like the Victorian nurses who currently get 26 weeks long service leave. When that allowable matter is wiped away, they will get 13 weeks.

‘Then you’ve got the four conditions they preserve, in whole or in part – annual leave which they say is four weeks, sick leave which they say is eight days, ordinary hours of work which they say is 38 hours, and parental/maternity leave (details to be advised).

‘In that clutch neither Andrews nor Howard have been able to detail in any way whether if, like the Victorian nurses you’ve got six week annual leave rather than four, or 21 days sick leave rather than eight, you are going to be adjusted downwards to meet the new legislated protected minimum.

‘And that’s before you get to the ones which are at risk, which are the other 12 allowable matters which include penalty rates, loadings, leave allowances, public holidays, meal breaks which are part of the ordinary hours of work – they haven’t included them in their legislative minimum.’

Why remove allowable matters?

Smith said Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has not been able to persuade people how any of the things which are at risk will actually be preserved in full.

‘Howard was out there on Friday saying this is all a shocking scare campaign and none of these things are going to be lost, but he didn’t detail how that would occur,’ Smith said.

‘I pose the question: if he is saying none of these things are going to be lost, then what’s it all about?

‘The only way he can secure that is by securing the current 20 allowable matters or by showing that the removal of any allowable matter won’t result in anyone losing anything. If so, why remove them?’

Real policy objective

Smith said the whole public policy objective of the IR changes is ‘to reduce wages in real terms through the attack upon the minimum wage and to reduce entitlements and conditions through the attack on the allowable matters’.

‘The more the community find out about the detail of this the less they like it and the more they are concerned about it.

‘They know for the vast bulk of the 10 million or so employees in Australia there is no such thing as an equal bargaining power.

‘So with the unfair dismissal going up to 100 employees, which covers nearly four million Australian employees, the community is working out that an individual in those circumstances can basically be told “here are your new arrangements - sign” and the threat will be, either expressed or not expressed, if you don’t sign you can be sacked unfairly without any remedy whatsoever.

‘Or if you are a new employee if you don’t sign under these terms and conditions you won’t get the job.’

No effective scrutiny

Smith said there would be no effective scrutiny of individual agreements because the mere registration of the individual agreement with the OEA will be sufficient to satisfy the test.

Asked if the Federal ALP will join unions and the States in High Court challenge, Smith said the Opposition would not have standing in the technical sense to pursue it.

‘In the first incidence it will be a matter for the State Governments,’ he said.

‘I think we are entitled to have a look at the legislation first, but I am proceeding on the basis that WA, Qld and NSW will challenge, because it goes to jurisdictional matters .

‘Certainly in my discussions with [WA Premier] Geoff Gallop he has a very strong view about the jurisdictional matters and the undercutting of individual rights of employees.’

States' rights - a big issue

Smith said State rights are a big thing in the outlying States, WA, SA and Qld.

‘It is no surprise that that aspect of it has seen a bit of a coalition mutiny so far as the Government is concerned,.

‘You’ve got the Liberal State leader in WA and the National State Leader in WA all saying don’t go down the road of the so-called unitary system.

You’ve got the SA Liberal Opposition leader saying don’t go down that road and the Qld National Leader, Lawrence Springborg, saying the same thing and in a Senate sense that’s been reflected by Barnaby Joyce from Qld and David Johnson from WA.

‘The outlying states are sensitive to those jurisdictional points but they are also generally sensitive to the undermining of rights and conditions.’

Smith said individual unions may also pursue a challenge in the High Court.


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