IR – what the Federal Government will do next


IR – what the Federal Government will do next

The Federal Government’s options for further industrial relations reform have been outlined to a conference in Sydney by Senator John Tierney, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education.


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The Federal Government’s options for further industrial relations reform have been outlined to a conference in Sydney by Senator John Tierney, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education. 

Options noted

Senator Tierney said these included: 

  • options for the setting of the minimum wage including whether the current ambit and adversarial process is sustainable into the twenty first century;

  • significant reforms designed to remove the complexity and outside interference with agreement making and to simplify the process, which might involve replacing the no disadvantage test with a different threshold;

  • extending the period for AWAs and certified agreements from three to five years;

  • a series of initiatives such as increased use of mediation along with changes to the role of the AIRC to ensure it is more aligned with the needs of a system that is suitable for Australian workplaces in the years ahead; and

  • changes focused on ensuring an ongoing role for awards as a genuine safety net of minimum terms and conditions of employment for low paid Australians now and into the future.

Senator Tierney told the conference, sponsored by the Financial Review, that the Government is adamant that it must address the ‘increasingly untenable co-existence of multiple state industrial systems in conjunction with the federal system’. 

‘If we are serious about pursuing a system whose focus is on increasing productivity, reducing complexity and fewer barriers to job creation, then the issue of a national system must be addressed,’ he said. 

‘In the twenty first century there is simply no logic in the current competing and complex state and federal systems.’  

Government's intentions

He said the Government intends to use the corporations power of the constitution to bring as many workplaces as possible under federal coverage.

‘The Termination of Employment Bill, which was rejected by the Senate last year, would have introduced a single system of unfair dismissal law for constitutional corporations, and the current Right of Entry Bill will implement a single system governing union right of entry to workplaces,’ Tierney said. 

He said the Government’s 2004 election policies included creating a new Independent Contractors Act to enshrine and protect the status of independent contractors and encourage independent contracting as ‘a wholly legitimate form of work’.  

‘This reflects the Government’s policy that the workplace relations system should apply primarily to employees, not to independent contractors running their own businesses,’ he said.

‘The content of the Independent Contractors Bill is currently under consideration. A discussion paper will be released for public comment in March before legislation is drafted, to be introduced into the Parliament in the second half of this year.’ 

Six Bills currently before parliament

Tierney said the Government currently has six substantive workplace relations Bills before Parliament. He gave the conference an outline of their content:

Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2005

  • This Bill re-introduces the enforcement provisions of the BCII Bill 2004, which was blocked in the Senate.

  • The Bill increases penalties for unlawful industrial action and grants increased powers to the Building Industry Taskforce to prosecute unlawful action in the building and construction industry.

  • It honours the Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, which found an industry characterised by corruption and unlawful activity.

Workplace Relations Amendment (Better Bargaining) Bill 2005

  • Will tighten the current provisions surrounding industrial action taken in support of enterprise bargaining negotiations.

  • It confirms that industrial action taken during the life of an existing agreement is unlawful and will enable innocent third parties who suffer damage from industrial action to apply for relief to the Industrial Relations Commission.

Workplace Relations Amendment (Extended Prohibition of Compulsory Union Fees) Bill 2005

  • The Bill will extend the existing prohibitions on compulsory union fees, or ‘bargaining agents fees’, which are charged by unions to non-members in return for their ‘services’ in enterprise bargaining negotiations. Such fees are already unlawful in the federal system.

Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal Reform) Bill 2004

  • This Bill will amend the Workplace Relations Act to exempt small businesses of less than 20 employees from the unfair dismissal provisions of the Act.

  • The Labor Party has voted against unfair dismissal reform on 41 previous occasions. The government remains committed to this reform for the simple reason that the current system costs jobs. A 2002 study by the Melbourne Institute estimated that current arrangements are costing Australia around 77,000 jobs.

Workplace Relations Amendment (Right of Entry) Bill 2004

  • This Bill will make several modifications to unions right of entry to workplaces.

  • It will end the current overlap of state and federal laws which have enabled unions to use state right of entry laws in workplaces and introduce new requirements for union permit holders to conduct themselves in an appropriate way and not cause undue inconvenience to businesses. 

Workplace Relations Amendment (Small Business Employment Protection) Bill 2004

  • This Bill will overturn a recent decision of the AIRC to require small businesses of less than 15 people to pay redundancy pay to employees. This decision overturns a long-stranding exemption that small businesses previously enjoyed.

  • The Bill will restore the status quo and exempt small businesses from the extra financial burdens that redundancy pay would impose.


Federal IR changes 2005



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