Howard sets revolutionary path for IR system

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Howard sets revolutionary path for IR system

The no disadvantage test for AWAs will be scrapped and employers with up to 100 employees will be exempted from unfair dismissal laws under the Federal Government’s new industrial relations legislation.

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The no disadvantage test for AWAs will be scrapped and employers with up to 100 employees will be exempted from unfair dismissal laws under the Federal Government’s new industrial relations legislation. 

A new Australian Fair Pay Commission is to be set up which will not only set minimum wage standards, but also minimum junior, training and disability wages, award classification wages and casual loadings. 

Employment Advocate role upgraded

Prime Minister John Howard outlined the new laws to Parliament earlier today. The Government’s plans have already been welcomed by employer organisations and condemned by the union movement. 

Among other major changes, both AWAs and collective agreements have been removed from the AIRC and will now be ‘approved on lodgement with the Office of the Employment Advocate’.

This indicates there will be no independent checking of AWAs or agreements, with aggrieved parties having to raise the issue themselves. 

Fair Pay Commission to be created

The currently system of workplace agreements being assessed against existing award  wages and condition will be replaced by comparison to a new Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, based on the minimum wage as set by the Australian Fair Pay Commission, and the guaranteed minimum conditions of employment as set out in legislation. 

‘This new Standard will be the test for all agreements,’ Howard told Parliament. ‘It will make it easier for employers and their employees to compare any agreement against this new safety net of fair pay and conditions.’ 

Future AWAs may be lower than awards

‘No worker can have their relevant award classification rate lowered,’ Howard said,

But without a ‘no disadvantage’ test future AWAs could have pay rates lower than the current award rate. 

Leave and hours

Annual leave, personal leave, parental leave (including maternity leave) and a maximum number of ordinary working hours will be removed as award or agreement conditions and instead set by legislation. 

Awards to be reviewed by Taskforce

A special Task Group will be set up to review existing awards and award classification structures with the intention of rationalising them. The Taskforce will be asked to complete its work within 12 months. 

Matters that are already covered by other legislation – including notice of termination, long service leave and superannuation – will be removed from awards.

AIRC savaged

The role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission is to be savagely cut back.

With no responsibility for collective agreements, no role in setting minimum wages and many fewer unfair dismissal cases to consider the AIRC will focus on resolving ‘legitimate’ disputes and the further simplification of awards. 

It seems the Government intends to move the resolution of ‘illegitimate’ industrial disputes – i.e. those involving unprotected action – to the court system. 

Unfair dismissal exemption - 100 employees

The Government has extended the number of employees which give employers exemption from the expected 20 to 100, and for those employers outside that limit employees will not be able to take unfair dismissal action until they have been employed for six months. 

States to be asked to refer powers

At the June 2005 Council of Australian Government’s meeting, the States (other than Victoria) will be invited to refer their powers on workplace relations to the Commonwealth.   

‘In the absence of referrals by the States, the Government will move towards a national system by relying on the Corporations power in the Constitution,’ Howard said. 

Other legislation changes proposed

Howard said the Government will in future legislation:

  • Protect the status of independent contractors and support the right of people to make a choice about their working arrangements;

  • Ensure the rule of law is restored to the building and construction industry;

  • Restore the exemption for small business from making redundancy payments;

  • Establish the Australian Safety and Compensation Council to oversee implementation of national occupational health and safety standards and pursue a national approach to workers’ compensation; and

  • Remove barriers to the take up of school based apprenticeships and part-time apprenticeships.

More action on unions

He said the Government will continue to pursue other stalled legislative measures, as amended to reflect current policy. This includes measures to:

  • Provide stronger laws in relation to industrial action (including secret ballots);

  • Provide a single right of entry regime; and

  • Discourage pattern bargaining.

‘The legislation necessary to put in place the framework for a new workplace relations system will be developed forthwith,’ Howard told Parliament. 

More information
 
For more information go to the Federal IR Minister's website.

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