Budget impact on federal IR laws

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Budget impact on federal IR laws

Federal Budget 2003-2004 reveals that the Federal Government will push ahead with plans to take a more active role in prosecuting breaches of return to work orders, and to introduce new termination and building and construction laws.

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Federal Budget 2003-2004 reveals that the Federal Government will push ahead with plans to take a more active role in prosecuting breaches of return to work orders, and to introduce new termination and building and construction laws.
 
Breaching return to work orders
 
The Federal Government will continue with its proposal to take a more active role in bringing legal proceedings against parties that fail to comply with Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) return to work orders. The Government will bring action if it is in the public interest. The Government has allocated $7 million to cover the cost.
 
The Federal Government plans include the following:
  • seeking penalties for contempt of court where defiance of a court order is wilful and deliberate;
  • introducing amendments to the Workplace Relations Act that clarify contemptuous conduct in relation to the AIRC, increasing penalties for contempt and allowing the referral of serious contempt breaches to be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible prosecution; and
  • allowing Government inspectors to initiate civil action against less serious contempt breaches.
When determining whether action is in the public interest the Government will consider the following:
  • impact of the defiant conduct on third parties;
  • economy;
  • history of previous contraventions; and
  • deterrent effect.
Unfair dismissal costs
 
The Government has allocated $16.8 million to cover the cost of proposed amendments to the Workplace Relations terminations laws, in the event the Senate passes them. The workload of the AIRC is expected to increase by 75 per cent, however, the workload in the State Commissions will reduce.
 
If the laws are passed, the workload of the AIRC will increase to cover its expanded jurisdiction. Expansion will result in the following:
  • an increase in federal unfair termination coverage from 50 per cent to 85 per cent of Australians;
  • a reduction in overlapping state and federal laws;
  • a move to a national industrial relations system; and
  • employees (15 per cent) in small unincorporated businesses will remain covered by the state system - however the Federal Government would like to cover these workers through a referral of state power to the Federal Government or the states replicating the federal laws.
Building and construction laws
 
The Federal Government has allocated $17 million to implementing the Cole Royal Commission recommendations into the building and construction industry.
 
A separate Act governing workplace relations in the construction industry will be introduced. It will provide for secret ballots, compulsory cooling off periods after extended strikes, and damages awards in the event of unprotected industrial action.
 
The Government will also establish a new law enforcement agency for the industry, provisionally named the Australian Building and Construction Commission, with powers to compel witnesses to testify, bring prosecutions and enforce judgements with sufficient on-the-ground presence to police CBD building sites.
 
For more information go to the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations website.
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