Govt faces tough week to get IR laws through

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Govt faces tough week to get IR laws through

Forces are building against the Federal Government as it struggles to gets its new IR legislation through the Senate this week.

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Forces are building against the Federal Government as it struggles to gets its new IR legislation through the Senate this week.
 
IR Minister Julia Gillard said she wants the Fair Work Bill passed by the end of the week, but is facing a barrage of amendments from the Opposition, the Greens and the independents — who are being lobbied by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group).
 
If the government fails to get the Bill through this sitting of Parliament it will have to try to squeeze it through the May Budget sitting or wait until mid-June. However, the legislation is timed to begin on 1 July, which would be difficult to achieve if it is not passed by May.
 
Impractical
 
Senator Steve Fielding of Family First put out his amendments last week, some of them impractical, such as a ban on unions right of entry to small business.
 
Senator Nick Xenophon has not yet indicated the changes he wants, but both he and Fielding are having meetings this week with Ai Group and Gillard.
 
The key issues that employer organisations want addressed are right of entry, pay and conditions when businesses are transferred, arbitration (both for low interest groups and for when bargaining breaks down) and unfair dismissals.
 
Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout is pressuring the independents to be strong in supporting amendments on right of entry, transfer of business and low-paid arbitration.
 
‘Family First or Business First’?
 
However, the ACTU says Fielding has to decide whether he is ‘Family First or Business First’.
 
ACTU president Sharan Burrow said amendments to new industrial relations laws proposed by Fielding would mean fewer rights for more than 3 million workers.
 
She said they would mean more than one-third of the workforce (36%) would have:
  • less protection from being unfairly sacked
  • no right to union support in the workplace
  • no help from the independent umpire to get better wages.
 
Burrow said Senator Fielding’s amendments to exempt small business from parts of the new laws would also mean that low-paid workers would be unable to make use of collective bargaining to lift themselves above the minimum wage.
 
‘Senator Fielding has been a vocal critic of WorkChoices, and was one of the first to warn about the damage it would wreak on working families,’ she said.
 
Worse than WorkChoices’
 
‘But the changes he is proposing would be worse than the restrictions on union advice and help under WorkChoices, and betray a lack of understanding of what unions do to help workers who believe their rights have been breached.'
 
‘Workers in small business are more vulnerable to exploitation and rip-offs than employees in big businesses.'
 
‘We urge Senator Fielding not to pursue these amendments, which would leave working families worse off at a time when they can least afford it.'
 
‘Senator Fielding also needs to be reminded that Australians voted to restore their rights at work at the last election, and don’t want to see greater fairness in workplaces hijacked at the eleventh hour.’
 
No arbitration
 
The Australian Services Union is also lobbying Fielding about his proposal to exclude businesses with fewer than 20 employees from arbitration when enterprise bargaining breaks down.
 
Meanwhile, the Coalition has accused Gillard of not bargaining in good faith by refusing to discuss its proposed amendments, while being willing to talk to the independents and the Greens.
 
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