Labor demands Govt tell the truth: are existing workers protected?

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Labor demands Govt tell the truth: are existing workers protected?

Labor has called on the Federal Government to tell Australian workers whether they have any protection at all for their wages and conditions if their employer sells the business to someone else.

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Labor has called on the Federal Government to tell Australian workers whether they have any protection at all for their wages and conditions if their employer sells the business to someone else.

Opposition IR spokesman Stephen Smith said today that Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews had for four days avoided the questions raised by the sale of an IGA supermarket in Perth in which 60 existing workers had been told to sign AWAs with the new owners or forget their jobs.

He said employees of sold businesses were under the impression their wages and conditions were protected for 12 months and that it was illegal to force existing employees to sign AWAS under duress.

However the WA Branch of the Shop Distributors Union (SDA) says it has high-level legal advice suggesting an action for duress was likely to fail if the company argued that the workers offered the AWAs were 'new' employees and not 'transferring' employees. WorkChoices states that new employers are not bound by existing collective agreements if they make AWAs with the transferring employees.

No legal protection

'The problem is the WorkChoices Act purports to create a special category of transferring employee, but in fact provides no legal basis to protect them,' the SDA said.

The SDA expects the new owners of the IGA store, Ten Talents, to pursue the same strategy at three other Perth supermarkets which employ another 250 workers.

Smith said that after four days Andrews had to answer the following questions:

  • If the Howard Government's guarantee about transmission of business protections means anything, how does the Minister explain to [one of the employees who refused to sign the AWA] why he no longer has a job?
  • How does the Minister explain to the supermarket's 60 odd staff why they are now on an AWA with inferior conditions to their collective agreement with the previous owner?
  • If what's happened at the IGA [store] is lawful, will the Government immediately move to fix the law in line with its guarantee?
  • If what's happened at the IGA is unlawful, how will the Government ensure that the 60 odd employees have their conditions and entitlements reinstated?
  • If what's happened at the IGA is unlawful, how will the Government ensure it won't happen again?

Smith said the fact that the Office of Workplace Services is now looking at the IGA deal is 'not the last word'.

Entitled to answers

'Australian employees shouldn't have to rely upon workplace arrangements being raised by Labor and profiled in the media before the Government gets the Office of Workplace Services to lift a finger,' he said. 'More importantly, Kevin Andrews can't keep shirking the national transmission of business questions thrown up by [IGA deal]. The thousands of Australian employees who face the sale of the business that employs them are entitled to his answers.'

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