Corporations power and employee entitlements: ir ministers meet

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Corporations power and employee entitlements: ir ministers meet

State Industrial Relations ministers are meeting with the federal Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, in Sydney today.

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State Industrial Relations ministers are meeting with the federal Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, in Sydney today. Two significant issues are expected to dominate the agenda.

The first is the re-emerging issue of one national industrial relations system founded upon the Constitutional Corporations Power. Subscribers will recall that HR Link 2000reported in early March that the federal Minister had once again adopted this issue as an item on the agenda for future reform.

The corporations power in s 51(xx) of the Constitutionallows the Commonwealth to legislate with respect to foreign corporations, and trading and financial corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth.

According to the Mr. Reith the benefits of a system based upon this constitutional power include:

  • a move away from the duplication and complexity involved in maintaining six workplace relations systems;

  • an identifiable safety net to cover and protect low paid workers; and

  • an end to a system developed over 100 years of "conciliation and arbitration", that has resulted in complexities and inefficiencies such as paper disputes, notional interstateness, and logs of claim with wide ranging ambits.

In an article published in the Australian Financial Review of 27 April 2000, the NSW Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr. Jeff Shaw, strongly opposed Canberra's move to override State systems through the corporations power. Whilst recognising that there will be occasions when issues arise from the overlap of industrial systems in a federal structure, the State Minister believed the proposal to be inconsistent with aspects of the federal Workplace Relations Act 1996. The federal Act specifically protects State agreements that may be inconsistent with federal awards or statutes relating to unfair dismissals. Therefore, in relation to unfair dismissal provisions, the federal Act has what Mr. Shaw refers to as a "States' rights focus". The other major concern of the NSW Minister, is that a system founded upon the corporations power will fail to protect employees of partnerships or unincorporated traders. This would predominantly affect small business employees.

The second significant item on the agenda is that of employee entitlements. Once again, in early March, Mr. Reith reaffirmed the Government's commitment to helping employees who have been left out of pocket and out of a job when businesses become insolvent. In this regard the Employee Entitlements Support Scheme (EESS) was established as a national scheme providing a safety net level of support for employees who have found themselves in this position since 1 January 2000. Today's meeting will canvass the possibility of the States contributing to the scheme.

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