‘Horror stories’ a sign of things to come, says ACTU


‘Horror stories’ a sign of things to come, says ACTU

The ACTU has published a booklet detailing ‘actual workers’ experiences’ under the Howard Government’s industrial relations laws, which they say are a sample of how workers will be treated under the new IR legislation.


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The ACTU has published a booklet detailing ‘actual workers’ experiences’ under the Howard Government’s industrial relations laws, which they say are a sample of how workers will be treated under the new IR legislation.

President Sharan Burrow said the sample of workers’ stories depicted in the booklet are ‘typical of the problems facing up to 10 million working Australians whose rights are threatened by the Howard Government’s workplace reforms’.

ALP warning

The case studies in the booklet depict workers being dismissed on an employer’s whim, for refusing to sign AWAs, or over family responsibilities.

‘The Prime Minister’s repeated failure to guarantee no one will be worse off under its workplace changes is a clear sign that many in fact will suffer a cut in their take home pay or lose important job conditions and rights,’ Burrow said when handing out copies of the booklet to Federal Parliamentarians in Canberra.

Andrews's response

However Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said that even if the stories are true, the incidents ‘are unlawful under current provisions and will remain unlawful in the future’. 

Andrews told Parliament that under the new Workplace Relations System, workers would continue to be protected against inappropriate conduct by employers.   

‘For example it will continue to be unlawful to dismiss or to victimise an employee for refusing to agree to a new workplace agreement,’ he said.

‘It will continue to be unlawful for employees to be dismissed, for example, for refusing to sign an AWA. This won’t change.

‘It will continue to be unlawful to dismiss a person taking a temporary absence from work due to illness or disability. 

‘It will continue to be unlawful to dismiss a worker because of an absence from work because of their family responsibilities and it will continue to be unlawful in relation to the filing of a complaint or participating in proceedings against an employer involved in alleged violation of laws or regulations.  None of these things will change under these proposals.’

Andrews said the Office of the Employment Advocate will continue to provide a strong inspection service and in 2003/04 the Office of Workplace Services concluded over 4,700 investigations into breaches of federal industrial laws.

Case studies

Here are some of the case studies contained in the booklet:

Sacked during employer’s temper tantrum 

Natalie worked at a warehouse, which employed ten people for about three years. She started as a customer service officer and was promoted to accounts manager and then national sales manager, earning around $39,000 pa full time, working around 50 hours a week. She was often praised for her performance.  

One Monday, Natalie came to work early for a staff meeting with four other staff, including the owner of  the  business. Natalie mentioned that warehouse staff were reluctant to work with a particular product as it contained a toxic chemical.  

The owner became angry and threw a glass across the table, which hit Natalie in the chest. The owner then screamed, ‘Get out and don’t come back’ and swore at Natalie in front of the other staff. Natalie was able to negotiate a settlement of six weeks pay compensation.

Dismissed due to child care commitments

Suzy, 35 years old, was a clerk at a local wholesale company for over a year. She worked between 10 am to 4 pm, which suited her child care arrangements. Suzy’s employer asked her to extend her hours to 5 pm. When she said she couldn’t because of the high cost of after school care, Suzy was told she had to do the extended hours or leave. She refused and was dismissed.

AWA threats 

Threatened with dismissal if they did not Sign AWAs which removed weekend & public holiday rates:   

Heather was a casual cleaner in a small country town, working regular part time hours for over two years. Her employer presented her with an AWA individual contract that took away any entitlement to penalties such as weekend rates and public holiday rates. Heather was told if she didn’t sign the AWA she would lose her hours or be dismissed. She was worried that she would not be able to find other work in the town, so she signed the AWA.

Joan, 58 years old, had worked as a cook for nearly ten years, early morning to lunchtime Wednesday to Sunday. Joan’s employer handed her an AWA individual contract to look at overnight and told her if she refused to sign it she could look for another job. The AWA provided no sick or annual leave, no public holiday penalties, and she would have to be available on call seven days a week until 10 pm.

Sacked for not signing AWA 

Jared, 19 years old, was a casual security guard working full time hours for two years. He was called into a meeting with his employer where he was given an AWA individual contract and told he had to sign it. Jared asked whether he could read the AWA and seek advice on it. His employer refused his request, threatened him and then sacked him. Jared then agreed to sign the AWA and got his job back.

Larry, in his 30s with three kids, had been a builder’s labourer with his company for around three months before he was told to sign an AWA, which had rates of pay lower than the right award rate, no paid leave and no allowances. He was the only one who didn’t sign the AWA, and was told not to come in the next Monday. The union started an unfair dismissal action and the company reinstated him. When Larry returned to work he was given different tasks and isolated from work mates. Eventually Larry suffered severe stress and had to stop work. 


The ACTU’s booklet is called ‘Why Workplace Rights are Important for Australian Families. Actual Experiences of Workers Under the Howard Govt’. It can be downloaded here


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