High Court gives Reith reforms 'green light'

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High Court gives Reith reforms 'green light'

In the wake of today's High Court decision, ruling the reduction of awards to 20 allowable matters constitutional, federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith told WorkplaceInfo he wants to pare them back even further.

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In the wake of today's High Court decision, ruling the reduction of awards to 20 allowable matters constitutional, federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith told WorkplaceInfo he wants to pare them back even further.

Australia’s major mining union lost its High Court challenge against the federal Government's industrial laws, and was ordered to pay government costs.

The High Court handed down a 4-3 judgement against the union this morning, rejecting its claim that provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 dealing with award simplification are unconstitutional.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith said the decision was a 'green light' which would bring the award simplification process to some finality.

Mr Reith told WorkplaceInfo that parties had been dragging their heels on allowable matters waiting for the outcome of the case, and there was no longer any reason for them to hold back on finalising their awards.

He also foreshadowed taking two further matters away from the 20 allowed – namely tallies in the meat industry, and union picnic days.

The Minister would not comment on plans to reintroduce unfair dismissal exemptions for small businesses, nor on his previous stated wish to use the corporations powers to bring industrial relations under one federal system. He said he would say more about unfair dismissal exemptions possibly later this week, and would be issuing discussion papers on other matters via his website shortly.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union says it is not cowed by the result. CFMEU (mining and energy division) general president Tony Maher told WorkplaceInfo that only the playing field had changed.

'The next playing field is Parliament, and if Parliament can legislate out, they can put things back,' he said. Maher said the decision would backfire against the Government, as 'all those who feel cheated by award stripping' would become 'even more determined' to change the government.

'The broader community feels Reith has gone too far. There are real human tragedies associated with his legal adventurism,' Maher said. He predicted the decision would be a 'double-edged sword' for Mr Reith, asking: 'Now that he’s got the Court agreeing Parliament can set wages, what’s he going to do with it? There’ll be a lot of people very apprehensive about that.'

Mr Reith rejected Maher’s claims that the Government should beware of the electorate voting with its feet, saying it was 'not the French Revolution'. 'And apart from the paranoia and leadership of the CFMEU, most Australians wouldn’t know what the allowable matters were,' he said.

The CFMEU argued that the provisions in the Act are invalid because the Constitution does not give Parliament the power to directly legislate terms and conditions of employment.

The union said that, by denying certain provisions of an award any effect, Parliament has effectively legislated the terms and conditions of employment, choosing what it thought should be in or out of an award.

It said this goes way beyond the power given by the Constitution in respect of interstate industrial disputes.

Chief Justice Murray Gleeson, and Justices Bill Gummow, Kenneth Hayne and Ian Callinan denied the CFMEU’s claim, with Justices Mary Gaudron, Michael McHugh and Michael Kirby disagreeing. The seven Justices released six different judgements.

Mr Reith had foreshadowed changes to industrial legislation if the decision had gone against him. Some 1500 awards have been simplified to 20 allowable matters under the legislation so far.

HR Link will cover this case in detail later this week. To view the case on the AustLII website: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/high_ct/2000/34.html

 
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