PROPOSED LEGISLATION TO ENHANCE ENTITLEMENTS OF VICTORIAN EMPLOYEES

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PROPOSED LEGISLATION TO ENHANCE ENTITLEMENTS OF VICTORIAN EMPLOYEES

In a media release on 14 March 2001, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Mr. Tony Abbott, announced that the Government would be introducing a new Bill when parliament resumes.

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In a media release on 14 March 2001, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Mr. Tony Abbott, announced that the Government would be introducing a new Bill when parliament resumes. It is the Government's intention that the proposed legislation protect the single system of workplace relations in Victoria, whilst at the same time improving the conditions and entitlements offered to Victorian employees.

Background

Subscribers will recall that in late 1996 the Victorian Kennett Government referred its industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth. This left Victorian workplaces with a dual federal industrial relations system. The first was federal coverage by virtue of a federal award, agreement or an Australian Workplace Agreement. The second system covered the remaining Victorian workplaces through the operation of Schedule 1A of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. Schedule 1A is a schedule of minimum terms and conditions. These terms are limited to annual leave, sick leave, unpaid parental leave, notice provisions and a minimum hourly rate for the first thirty-eight hours of work.

On 12 April 2000, the newly-elected Bracks Victorian Government announced the creation of an Industrial Relations Taskforce to conduct an independent inquiry into Victorian industrial relations. Among other things the Taskforce found that some 356,000 employees (approximately 21 per cent of the Victorian labour force) relied exclusively upon Sch 1A of the federal Actfor their conditions of employment. When compared to the terms and conditions applying under federal awards and agreements, it was found that Sch 1A employees receive fewer conditions and entitlements. For example, Sch 1A employees have no statutory right to conditions such as personal and carer's leave or bereavement leave.

To remedy this inequity, a majority of the Taskforce recommended the establishment of minimum employment standards for all Victorian employees. The Victorian Government responded by introducing the Fair Employment Bill 2000 into the Victorian Legislative Assembly on 25 October 2000. The Victorian government has since struggled to sell the Bill to small business, farmers and employer groups. The announcement by Mr. Abbott of amendments to improve the entitlements of Sch 1A workers has given the Liberal Opposition in Victoria a strong argument for blocking the Bill when it is debated in the Upper House next week.

It is envisaged that the federal Government Bill will affect Victorian Industrial Relations in three ways:

  1. improve the legislated safety net entitlements of Schedule 1A Victorian workers;
  2. provide for the Victorian government to intervene in Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) proceedings; and
  3. improve compliance and enforcement arrangements for outworkers in the Victorian clothing, textile and footwear industries.
Safety net entitlements for Sch 1A workers

It is proposed that the legislation will enhance employment conditions for sch 1A workers through the provision of:

  • carers' leave—a paid entitlement of five days per year (sick leave may be converted for this purpose);
  • bereavement leave—two days upon the death of an immediate family or household member;
  • annual leave and sick leave—legislated details for the calculation and accumulation of (currently prescribed) annual leave and sick leave entitlements;
  • work in excess of 38 hours—legislation for the payment of work in excess of 38 hours per week;
  • supported wage system—a legislated right to stand down where Sch 1A employees cannot be gainfully employed due to circumstances beyond an employers control; and
  • time and wage records—legislation requiring workplaces with Sch 1A employees to keep and maintain time and wage records.
Intervention of Victorian Government in AIRC proceedings

Mr. Abbott's proposed legislation will also specify legislated rights for the Victorian government to intervene in AIRC proceedings concerning the setting of minimum wages applying to Sch 1A employees, and to intervene in AIRC proceedings concerned with the settlement of major industrial disputes in Victoria.

Outworkers

For outworkers in Victoria's clothing, textile and footwear industries, the Minister claimed that the proposed Bill would do three things:

  1. enforce award wages and conditions by establishing a team of inspectors to educate and investigate clothing and textile workplaces, with a view to achieving compliance with federal awards or industry wage orders applying in Victoria;
  2. provide a Ministerial report by the inspectorate within three months of the passage of the proposed Bill on the level of compliance in relation to Victorian outworkers; and
  3. cover contract outworkers by enforcing an entitlement for contract outworkers in the clothing, textile and footwear industry in Victoria to at least receive the minimum hourly Sch 1A rate of pay.
Implications of proposed legislation

According to the federal Minister the proposed Bill will allow for the resolution of the impasse in the Victorian Parliament over the Fair Employment Bill 2000 (Vic). With the Democrats' Workplace Relations spokesperson, Senator Andrew Murray, supporting the enhancement of minimum entitlements for Victorian workers, the question then becomes one of whether the Victorian and Federal Governments can reach a consensus on how the entitlements of Victorian workers ought to be protected and regulated.

 
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