April 2003: the month in IR

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April 2003: the month in IR

Proposed changes to federal termination and discrimination laws, the commencement of the minimum wage case, hours of work, overtime rulings and reverberations from the Cole report were this month's industrial relations milestones. However, work/life balance continued to be a major industrial and human resource concern, while early retirement emerged as a major labour market and economic problem.

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Proposed changes to federal termination and discrimination laws, the commencement of the minimum wage case, hours of work, overtime rulings and reverberations from the Cole report were this month's industrial relations milestones. However, work/life balance continued to be a major industrial and human resource concern, while early retirement emerged as a major labour market and economic problem.
 
Federal legislation
 
The federal Bill designed to direct the major portion of unfair dismissal actions into the Australian Industrial Relations Commission apparently won the support of the Australian Democrats. This means that the Workplace Relations Amendment (Termination of Employment) Bill 2002 is likely to become law soon.
 
Federal discrimination law took centre stage in a public hearing into proposed changes to human rights legislation.
 
University of Sydney law lecturer Joellen Riley said the Trade Practices Act had a role to play in remedying unfair employment contracts, but warned it was a tough arena to stake a claim.
 
Unions commenced a lobbying campaign to prevent anti-union laws emanating from the Cole Royal Commission recommendations.
 
AIRC decisions
 
The Australian Industrial Relations Commission rejected an application by the Master Builders Association (MBA) for a part-time provision in the National Construction Industry Award, ruling there was insufficient evidence to justify changing the award.
 
Superannuation guarantee legislation was interpreted by the AIRC to be a benefit that must be included in the calculation of remuneration of an employee when assessing an employee's right to access the federal unfair dismissal jurisdiction.
 
A permit granted to an officer of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) entitled him to enter the premises of the respondent, MRE, and hold discussions with relevant employees.
 
An attempt by an employer to refuse to bargain with a particular union was rejected by the AIRC on the grounds that the Commission had the power to make certain directions as to the procedure of enterprise bargaining, without involving itself in the substance of the negotiations.
 
To be effective, a traineeship agreement must be enforced and honoured by both the employer and employee.
 
A Victorian abattoir worker failed to convince the AIRC that his 'inappropriate interactions' with female employees were no more than 'a bit of fun'.
 
Federal court decisions
 
A Full Court of the Federal Court upheld an earlier decision that required a contractor taking over activities previously performed by another contractor to honour the industrial instruments that applied to the outgoing contractor.
 
A Full Court of the Federal Court upheld a ruling that Amcor Ltd employees who were retrenched one day by Amcor and provided with new jobs doing the same work the next day were entitled to severance pay under their enterprise agreement.
 
Extended litigation continued before a Full Court of the Federal Court on a claim by the Navy's former director of psychology. The Full Court refused to extend his employment beyond the usual retirement age (65 years), as specified in the relevant legislation.
 
State round up
 
New South Wales employees will be able to refuse unreasonable overtime demands in accordance with principles laid down by the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission.
 
A teacher convicted in Tasmania of having sex with a girl under 17 was not to be barred from applying for teaching positions in NSW because his actions did not amount to an offence in that State, according to an Administrative Decisions Tribunal (NSW) decision.
 
The NSW Court of Appeal ruled that an employer was not liable to pay compensation to an employee after another employee who was intoxicated assaulted her.
 
The WA Industrial Relations Commission found the unreasonable application of a workplace policy on drug and alcohol testing resulted in the unfair dismissal of an employee who refused to be tested.
 
The Queensland Industrial Relations Commission found an employee of the Sunshine Coast Private Hospital was entitled to a pro-rata payout of his long-service leave entitlement after he resigned due to an ongoing stress condition.
 
The Tasmanian Industrial Relations Commission found an employee who abandoned his employment was unable to claim he was unfairly dismissed.
 
A Linfox employee failed to have an alleged series of race discrimination incidents that happened over a two-year period considered as part of a claim lodged in June 2000.
 
Cole follow-up
 
Federal cabinet approved some of the key Cole report recommendations, including an extension of the interim building and construction industry task force.
 
Wages, agreements and hours of work
 
The ACTU's annual minium wage case commenced in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The decision will be delivered on 6 May.
 
Innovative agreement provisions were emerging in some sectors, while wage increases remained stagnant or included the 'absorption' of allowances and penalty provisions, according to the ADAM December 2002 quarterly report on pay and conditions released by the industrial relations research unit at the University of Sydney.
 
The Australian Workers Union (AWU) requested that Pan Pharmaceuticals continue to pay its workers while it was suspended from trading.
 
Professor Richard Mitchell of the University of Melbourne told the 11th annual acirrt Labour Law conference Australian Workplace Agreements had failed to 'penetrate' the labour market and heightened managerial prerogative rather than employee flexibility.
 
Part-timers wanted extra hours, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
 
Three out of four unemployed people were looking for full-time work, and one third of new part-timers wanted more hours, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
 
A growing trend of providing employees with their wage and salary information by email instead of a paper pay slip is under the spotlight as to whether it satisfies the amendments to the Superannuation Guarantee laws that commence on 1 July 2003.
 
Work/life balance
 
The Federal Government's announcement that work and family reforms would not be part of the May budget was criticised.
 
UK women were given 26-weeks paid maternity leave.
 
Working from home had its advantages, but HR managers were warned to ensure that telecommuting systems and the home office were legal, operational and secure, before staff were sent packing.
 
Effective work/life balance strategies were more than maternity leave and must be available to all employees, said IBM.
 
Economic rationalism was taking a step back as work/life balance initiatives improved the bottom line.
 
A significant proportion of Queensland workers with dependent care responsibilities wanted more flexible working arrangements, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
 
The effects of early retirement
 
A continuing culture of early retirement fuelled by age discrimination and out-dated attitudes and behaviour would severely restrict the supply of labour and compromise the economy, according to a report on older workers released on 23 April.
 
Industrial disputes
 
The number of industrial disputes during the year ending January 2003 increased significantly over the previous year, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
 
Transmission of business
 
The Finance Sector Union sort a Federal Court injunction under the Trade Practices Act to stop the Commonwealth Bank of Australia from allegedly moving staff to its subsidiary CommSec on substandard working conditions.
 
Vocational training
 
Vocational training was being rorted by unscrupulous employers and failed to meet skill shortages, claimed the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
 
Bullying
 
The subtle side of bullying presented a management dilemma.
 
People
 
An exhibition honouring Women's role in the AIRC opened in Melbourne. See the AIRC website.
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