Federal Govt focus of Gould's reform attention

News

Federal Govt focus of Gould's reform attention

The Bracks Government, deterred by a hostile Upper House from pursuing its IR agenda in Victoria, has now pinned its hopes for reform on the federal Workplace Relations Act, IR Minister Monica Gould told a Melbourne conference on Friday.

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

 

The Bracks Government, deterred by a hostile Upper House from pursuing its IR agenda in Victoria, has now pinned its hopes for reform on the federal Workplace Relations Act, IR Minister Monica Gould told a Melbourne conference on Friday.

Gould told delegates to the IR Society of Victoria's annual convention that in the whole history of the Victorian Parliament, Labor had only ever held power in the Upper House for two weeks.

After the conservative Opposition overturned its Fair Employment Bill earlier this year (see 57/2001), the Government realised it could not go through reforms internally which would guarantee Victoria's lowest-paid workers access to more than five minimum conditions, nor could it give outworkers employee status and thus protection from abuse. Some 356,000 workers under Schedule 1A of the Workplace Relations Act are not covered by either federal awards or agreements, and are covered by only five minimum conditions compared with the 20 that other award-covered workers around Australia enjoy.

Challenges

Gould said it was a 'sad day' for both Victorian businesses and employees when the Coalition used its 'overwhelming majority' to vote down the Bill, and since then she and Premier Steve Bracks had determined to pursue change through the Federal Workplace Relations Act.

They have offered to refer all relevant industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth (see 76/2001), and have asked the Howard Government to increase the powers of the federal Industrial Relations Commission, so that it is able to make common-rule awards in Victoria. At the moment it can only make minimum wage adjustments, rather than change conditions for Schedule 1A workers.

They also want outworkers to be deemed employees. Gould said this group was probably the most disadvantaged in Australia – mainly migrant women, aged between 25 and 35, with young children, and earning only $2 an hour.

But Gould admitted she was now holding out hope for after the November 10 election, when she felt a Beazley Government would be more receptive to the Bracks Government approach. The Prime Minister John Howard has made no formal response on the Bracks Government proposal to cede more powers to the Commonwealth, and federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has indicated the reforms were unlikely to get up.

Instead, Abbott has introduced a Bill to amend the Workplace Relations Act somewhat in relation to Victorian workers (see previous story), but that Bill will be prorogued because of the election. Gould says the changes it would have brought did not go far enough - Schedule 1A workers would get payment for work done over 38 hours week, and have access to personal leave and bereavement leave, but outworkers were still not regarded as employees under it.

Wins

The Government had made significant changes within the state however, starting with the establishment of IR Victoria within the State and Regional Development Department. IRV was fostering a co-operative, partnership approach between the various IR parties she said, and had seen the setting up of:

  • The Effective Organisational Unit, which ran regional networks, workshops and discussion groups around issues like performance management and reward systems, as well as engaging in project work with employers;
  • The Business Development Unit, which promoted Victoria's IR system to attract investors and helped smooth their way to doing business in Victoria;
  • The Building Industry Consultative Council, which Gould said would play an important role in helping the Government develop co-operation strategies to ensure the on-time preparation for the Commonwealth Games, due to be held in Melbourne in 2006.

Federal Opposition IR spokesperson Arch Bevis, who also addressed the conference, said such co-operation helped bring in the Sydney Olympics venues ahead of time, under budget and with minimal industrial disputation.

 

 

 
Post details