Gillard confirms IR course


Gillard confirms IR course

Julia Gillard, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations spoke at the National Industrial Relations Summit 2008 in Sydney today and confirmed that previously-announced changes and the timetable for IR reform are on track.


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Julia Gillard, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations spoke at the National Industrial Relations Summit 2008 in Sydney today and confirmed that previously-announced changes and the timetable for IR reform are on track. The National Industrial Relations Summit 2008 focuses on the Rudd Government's ‘Forward with Fairness’.
‘No nasty surprises’
Gillard made the following points:

‘ … There are no nasty surprises in store for anyone in the reforms that we’re making. The reforms we took to the Australian people at the last election will comprise the essential shape and detail of Australia’s new workplace relations system.

In fact, significant parts of our election promises have already been made law through their inclusion in the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Act 2008, including, of course, the provision that no new AWAs can be made. The award modernisation process is also well underway.

[Committee on Industrial legislation]

… the Committee on Industrial Legislation. This is the committee of representatives of unions and business who will painstakingly work their way through the legislative changes the Government is proposing …

We’re determined to learn the lessons of the past and deliver a workplace relations system that has broad acceptance and support …

It’s not about swinging the pendulum violently back to the other extreme from WorkChoices but putting it where it should be - in the centre

[Legislation coming]

These interim arrangements will of course be replaced by the new workplace relations system which will be fully operational by 1 January 2010 and which will coincide with the overwhelming completion of the award modernisation process.

And to bring this about, a substantial workplace relations reform Bill will be introduced into Parliament later this year.

In the very broadest terms, the new workplace relations arrangements will provide a simple, balanced system that allows employers to get on with business and employees to get on with their jobs.’

Components of legislation

Gillard continued  providing an outline of the proposed legislation:

‘Its component parts are straightforward.

1.    The first is a fair and simple safety net comprising National Employment Standards and modern awards.

The 10 legislated National Employment Standards announced in June will protect important conditions like hours of work, public holidays and redundancy entitlements as well as annual, personal, parental and long service leave.

Employees earning $100,000 (indexed) or less will be protected by modern simple awards that will contain ten minimum conditions such as minimum wages, overtime and penalty rates of pay and superannuation.

Collective agreements will only be approved by the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia, if they meet or exceed the National Employment Standards and leave the employees under the agreement "better off overall" when compared with the modern award.

And common law contracts will also be available but only if they build on the safety net rather than undermine it.

In other words, the new system will deliver necessary flexibilities but without providing a legislative Trojan horse that allows the safety net to be ripped away . That is a massive difference to WorkChoices.

2.    The second is collective, enterprise-level bargaining underpinned by good faith bargaining obligations.

One of the problems of WorkChoices was that employers were under no obligation to even sit down and discuss new conditions of employment. It promoted a bad faith, take-it-or-leave-it culture.

Our new system fixes that. Under it, if a majority of employees at a workplace want to bargain collectively, their employer will be required to do so in good faith all without excessive rules and regulations to tilt the balance in favour of one side or the other.

Parties to good faith bargaining will be required to:

  • Participate in meetings at reasonable times;

  • Disclose relevant information and respond to proposals in a timely manner; and

  • Refrain from conduct that is capricious or unfair or which undermines freedom of association or collective bargaining.

I want to stress that employees will be represented by unions in bargaining if they so choose, but they will also be able to represent themselves and reach agreement directly with their employer, if that’s what they want.

It will be prohibited for anyone employer, union, or anyone else to pressure an employee on the choice that is theirs and theirs alone.

3.    The third component of the new system is ensuring that everyone in the workplace is treated fairly and decently and that, when things go wrong, matters can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

This will include a simpler unfair dismissal system which balances the rights of employees to be protected from unfair dismissal with the need for employers, including small business, to manage their workforce, and to ensure a faster, less costly and less complex process for all.

The system will also obviously protect employees from unlawful dismissal on grounds such as family responsibilities, pregnancy and disability.

There will also be strong protections for freedom of association. It will be unlawful to dismiss a person for belonging to a union or for participating in collective bargaining, just as it will be unlawful to discriminate against them for not belonging to a union.

4.    The fourth is an independent umpire Fair Work Australia to oversee the system and maintain the safety net.

The new umpire will be a ‘one stop shop’, to provide practical information, advice and assistance to deal with workplace issues and to ensure compliance with workplace laws and encourage the adoption of family-friendly work practices.

All appointments to Fair Work Australia will be made through a transparent selection process. This is not an industrial relations club.

5.    The fifth and final component of the new workplace relations system is strong compliance measures to ensure all participants comply with their obligations under the law and to ensure stability of operations at the workplace. If they don’t, they will face stiff penalties.

Under the new system, industrial action in an enterprise will be allowed during good faith collective bargaining periods in accordance with clear rules, including approval through a mandatory secret ballot.

Unprotected industrial action will be dealt with swiftly.

And secondary boycotts will continue to be regulated by the Trade Practices Act and the current rules in relation to right of entry will remain.’

Nationally consistent workplace relations laws

Gillard concluded:

‘One further point is that we want to make our workplace relations laws nationally consistent for the private sector.

Too many businesses that compete across state borders are finding themselves caught up in a complex web of existing state-based industrial relations laws, leading to unnecessary legal bills and time-wasting uncertainty.

So consultation is also underway between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories at the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) to ensure the new workplace relations system be uniform throughout the private sector workforce. It’s part of our objective of creating a seamless national economy.

There is more consultation to take place before we can settle our new workplace relations system.’

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