Howard stung by IR taunts over media-led responses

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Howard stung by IR taunts over media-led responses

Prime Minister John Howard has been stung by criticism that he only moves to protect workers from rogue employers after their cases have been taken up by the media.

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Prime Minister John Howard has been stung by criticism that he only moves to protect workers from rogue employers after their cases have been taken up by the media.

Opposition IR spokeswoman and Labor Deputy Leader, Julia Gillard, yesterday referred to the cases of a 17 year-old BP petrol station attendant who had his pay cut, and the plight of the Tristar workers still waiting for their redundancy pay.

'The Howard Government only ever acted when it looked like it was going to be politically hurt by these cases,' Gillard said. 'It only ever acted when it looked like these cases were going to dominate the media headlines.

Doesn't care

'The Howard Government, when it comes to industrial relations, cares about its political hurt, but it doesn't care about the hurt to working Australians.

'This is the hallmark of a government that is focused on its short term political interests but not on a long term vision for this country and it certainly isn't worried about the unfair laws it has brought to Australian working families through its industrial relations laws.'

In Federal Parliament, Howard was asked by Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, why he had ignored questions on the plight of the Tristar workers since August and November last year.

'Why didn't the Prime Minister bother to respond to this letter of three months ago and why did the Prime Minister ignore the indecent way these Tristar workers have been treated until their plight received media attention again this January?' Rudd asked.

Denied ignoring their plight

'I deny having ignored their plight and deny having not replied,' Howard said.

He said the Government had amended the WorkChoices laws so redundancy provisions of certified agreements such as at Tristar remained 'on foot for an additional year'.

In the case of Tristar, where the company refused a voluntary redundancy deal to a worker dying of cancer, but later offered $50,000 after a media uproar and criticism from Sydney radio announcer Alan Jones, Howard said the new Minister for Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, had spoken to the workers.

He also said the redundancy problems were not a consequence of the WorkChoices laws.

Expectations of decency

'In relation to the treatment of [the worker who has since died of cancer], I have previously said that the company, although it may have behaved within a law which has applied to redundancies for decades under both Governments, behaved well outside community expectations and decency,' Howard said.

'That was made very clear by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, who, on the day he was appointed, was out there talking to the workers.

'So don't you come up here with your phoney pro-worker hand-wringing exercise. It was this Government that gave the redundancy another year. It was this Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, who, on his first day on the job, went out and talked to the men and women.

'So don't you come here professing a concern and suggesting that we do not care. I do not believe that companies should treat their workers badly. I think companies should treat their workers in a very respectful and a very precious and proper way.'

Prosecutions

In relation to the 17 year-old BP worker, Howard said he understood the worker had been paid $160 deducted from his pay because of 'drive away' petrol thefts. He also said OWS had now launched prosecutions against BP over allegations of coercing workers into signing AWAs.

'No industrial system can prevent employees or employers being treated outside the law,' Howard said.

Gillard admitted that the Tristar industrial issue 'is not a product of WorkChoices'.

'OK to treat unfairly'

'But I would say this, when the Howard Government forced its industrial relations laws through Parliament, it sent a signal to all of Australia that it was OK to treat workers unfairly because that's what the Government was going to do,' she said.'The Government was going to make sure workers were treated unfairly with its new laws.

'Now it is hardly surprising that some employers, including the employer at Tristar, have picked up on the signal from the Howard Government that it is ok to be unfair, that it is OK to treat your workers cruelly, that it is OK to keep them sitting in the shed doing absolutely nothing instead of paying them the money that they are due and in the case of [the worker with cancer] it's OK to keep him and his family in a state of high anxiety in the last few days of his life about whether or not he was going to get the money due to him.'

Related

BP charged with 'coercing' 17 year-olds to sign AWAs

Tristar claims 'idle' employees won't work

  

 

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