Both sides flounder in the mire of WorkChoices regulations


Both sides flounder in the mire of WorkChoices regulations

The sudden issuing of the WorkChoices regulations on a Sunday has obviously caught the unions and employer organisations on the hop, because with 600 pages of detail to cover by mid-afternoon today the responses had been minimal.


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The sudden issuing of the WorkChoices regulations on a Sunday has obviously caught the unions and employer organisations on the hop, because with 600 pages of detail to cover by mid-afternoon today the responses had been minimal.


The ACTU immediately attacked the regulations, with Secretary Greg Combet saying the laws are ‘an affront to basic Australian democratic rights’.

‘They impose harsh fines on Australian workers and unions simply for standing up for fundamental values like job security and fair treatment for employees,’ he said.

‘Under the regulations workers or unions who even ask to have certain matters contained in a workplace agreement will be fined by the Government.

‘For example, an individual or union that seeks to have some protection from harsh or unfair dismissal for workers written into a workplace agreement will be fined $6,000 and $33,000 respectively by the Government - even where their employer also wants or agrees to such a provision.

‘The question that the Federal Government and Kevin Andrews need to answer is why should a worker or a union be fined by the Government for trying to make jobs more secure or asking for fair treatment for workers?’

Government has extended High Court position

Combet is right about the regulations being highly punitive, but the High Court had already ruled that agreements should contain only matters pertaining to the employee/employer relationship.

The Federal Government has taken this much further, with Combet pointing out that the laws also provide for fines for workers or unions who seek commitments in agreements that union or OH&S representatives will have access to training or that union members be allowed to meet to discuss workplace issues.

Clauses regulating the use of independent contractors or labour hire employees have also been banned.

‘The Federal Government has produced no valid argument, evidence or justification as to why such laws are necessary.’


Leading business organisation ABL/State Chamber says the release of the WorkChoices regulation will bring to an end the deliberate attempts by State jurisdictions to circumvent WorkChoices.

‘Overall the regulations are workable, sensible and are in keeping with the aims of the legislation, namely to bring greater flexibility to agreement making and to improve workforce productivity and participation’, said Minna Knight, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser for ABL/State Chamber.

‘While the seven days notice for the start of the regulations is not ideal, business understands why the Federal Government is moving quickly, given the recent “scorched earth” decisions of various State administrations.’

Detail needed

Knight said the regulations are detailed, but ‘employers would prefer these 400 pages than the countless pages of regulation and duplication they currently experience under the six separate workplace relations systems’.

‘Despite the union fear campaign, the regulations provide entitlements in sick, personal and compassionate leave that are far more generous than many existing awards,’ she said. ‘While this will be a cost to employers, it will be more than off-set from the shared benefits of improved agreement making and flexibility.’

‘The regulation appears to make a concerted effort to ensure the administration of medical certificates is not abused, however employers will have a better idea as to the effectiveness of the new provisions in the coming months,’ she said.

‘We do have some concerns that the penalties for employers are harsh. The understanding of WorkChoices by employers is low and in such an environment we do have concerns about employers facing potential fines of $33,000 for failing to comply with the new minimum standards.’


Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Hendy said the workplace changes were needed.

‘That’s just more of the old scare campaign we heard all of last year,’ he said.

‘The fact is that now these regulations are out, it means that the Act can be proclaimed and that this very, very important reform, that will be good for both employers and employees, can be implemented and we can get on with boosting - kickstarting productivity growth in this country.’


But the federal Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, said it’s ‘rubbish’ to say the industrial relations changes will lead to wage growth in Australia. Beazley said Australian employees will be worse off.

Opposition spokesman on IR, Stephen Smith, said industrial relations will have a central role to play in the outcome of the next federal election.

‘The regulations come to some 600 pages all up; some 400 pages of regulations and nearly 200 pages of explanatory materials,’ he said. ‘This adds to the over 1200 pages of legislation and explanatory materials that went through the Parliament last year. So we have now got to assess another 500 to 600 pages.

‘So much for what John Howard described as a single, simple new system. It is notoriously complex and complicated.’

Smith said that under the Government’s ‘so-called minimum standards’, there’s four weeks annual leave, but up to two weeks can be cashed out.

‘The effect of the regulations seems to be that if you enter into an Agreement with your employer that two weeks can’t be cashed out, that that can be struck out by the Minister as prohibited content, effectively forcing two weeks annual leave to be cashed out if that was the intention of the employer.,’ he said.


However Kevin Andrews countered that the two week’s leave could only be cashed out at the employee’s request.

At a press conference Andrews defended the change that means employers have to provide weekly reports on industrial action to the Employment Advocate.

He said there are provisions in the current Workplace Relations Act which require the Industrial Relations Commission to report on a regular basis on actions that are being taken in the Industrial Relations Commission.

Andrews said that provisions had been ‘modernised’ so that some of the responsibilities that the Industrial Relations Commission had are now going to be carried out by the Employment Advocate.

‘We think that in some circumstances a shorter time frame for reporting, namely a week, is more appropriate than a month.

‘People would be criticising me if they were asking me about what was going on and I didn’t know.’

Andrews denied that the outcome of the changes would be ‘that the Government will increase its meddling in Australian workplaces as opposed to deregulating the system’.

Obviously both sides are now scouring the regulations for details. Early responses are that the regulations are more onerous in what they do not say still exists than they are in what is specifically excluded.

More information will come out slowly over the next few weeks.


WorkChoices regulations – what they mean for you


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