Govt denies new WorkChoices plan, but Labor says standards will be cut

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Govt denies new WorkChoices plan, but Labor says standards will be cut

The Federal Government says it is not planning any major changes to the WorkChoices legislation but says there may be some 'fine-tuning'.

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The Federal Government says it is not planning any major changes to the WorkChoices legislation but says there may be some 'fine-tuning'.

However ALP spokesman on industrial relations, Stephen Smith, said the release of a secret document listing the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (ACCI) wish list for further industrial relations changes by the Howard Government 'again shows that the Government will not be content simply with the extreme changes it introduced last year'.

He said central to ACCI's desired changes was for AWAs to be able to over-ride and lower the minimum standards.

The ACTU yesterday revealed that the ACCI had met with Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews last week and presented him with a list of changes to IR laws it wanted.

Major changes - ACTU

The ACTU said the changes include:

  • 38 hour week: Removing the limit on the length of the standard working week (currently 38 hours) in workplace agreements. The plan specifically proposes to amend the current IR law so that all hours worked in excess of 38 hours are 'presumed to be reasonable unless an employee complainant can prove otherwise'.
  • Personal leave: Allowing AWA individual contracts to override the legal minimum standard and only provide employees with five days sick/personal leave instead of the current 10 days and to cap entitlements to unpaid leave to care for a sick child or family member.
  • Annual leave: Allowing all four weeks of annual leave to be 'cashed out', instead of the current two weeks maximum. Also, regular weekend shift workers would lose their current entitlement to a fifth week of annual leave that compensates them for working unsocial hours.
  • Parental leave: Considering proposals to allow AWA individual contracts to override the legal minimum standard and trade off their parental leave entitlement to 12 months unpaid leave after the birth of a child.
  • Minimum wages: Enabling employers to cut the wages of low paid employees on State awards by $20 a week in NSW and WA and by $17 a week in SA [following recent State minimum wages adjustments] as a result of a proposal to allow businesses to enter the new federal system at will.

Discussions 'unremarkable'

ACCI CEO Peter Hendy, admitted yesterday that a meeting with the Federal Government did take place to discuss the implementation of WorkChoices after an initial three months of operation, which he said 'is entirely unremarkable' given the scale of the reforms.

However, he denied that employers were seeking the cashing out of all annual leave, any changes to overtime pay or the 38 hour working week, cutting access to parental leave and reducing minimum wages.

Smith said the document shows that ACCI believes the Government should proceed with another wave of industrial relations changes, which massively favour employers while further eroding the rights, conditions and entitlements of Australian employees.

'Central to ACCI's wish list for further changes is the proposal that Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) should be able to have conditions below the Government's legislated minimum standards,' Smith said.

Over-ride standards

'ACCI's simple suggestion for fixing this is: “many of the issues raised … could be resolved if the Government allowed AWAs to override the Standard.”

'So when ACCI talks about flexibility, just like the Government it is really talking about flexibility downwards for an employee: that is, losing conditions and entitlements,' Smith said.

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