Labor’s IR laws should be retrospective: union

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Labor’s IR laws should be retrospective: union

WorkChoices is alive and well and wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of Australian workers; and the Australian Services Union (ASU) wants laws abolishing the IR system to be made retrospective.

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WorkChoices is alive and well and wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of Australian workers; and the Australian Services Union (ASU) wants laws abolishing the IR system to be made retrospective.

ASU Victorian branch secretary Ingrid Stitt told the Senate Committee inquiring into Labor’s interim IR legislation that long-term employees at Qantas Valet Parking either had to accept the AWA terms and conditions of employment offered by the new contractor or look for another job.

She said the final AWA offer presented to employees in Victoria resulted in altered overtime payments and a loss in conditions in areas such as accident make-up pay, parental leave, paid jury service leave, part-time employment categories and protections for part-time employees, with NSW employees even worse off.

‘This recent dispute has demonstrated that WorkChoices is well and truly still alive and reaping (sic) havoc on the livelihoods of Australian workers,’ Stitt said.

Looking for new jobs

Stitt said that in Melbourne alone about two-thirds of the customer service staff at Qantas Valet Parking refused to sign the AWA and are now looking for new employment.

Stitt said amendments needed to be made to the Bill to protect those forced to sign five-year AWAs as a condition of their employment.

‘Otherwise these Qantas valet employees will be employed on sub-standard and unfair terms and conditions of employment until 2013, long after other employees were working under the new and fairer industrial relations system that is due to commence in 2010,’ she told the inquiry.

In its submission, the ASU advocated the abolition of individual statutory contracts to be made retrospective to 1 December 2007.

Period of exploitation

It said employers should not be allowed to exploit the period between the 2007 Federal election and the passage of the current Bill.

‘The case of Qantas Valet Parking shows how employers continue to force workers onto unfair individual contracts,’ Stitt said.

‘In normal circumstances, changes to the law would operate prospectively; however, the retrospective abolition of AWAs should be an exception to this general rule because it was well known and understood in the lead up to the 2007 Federal Election that Labor intended to abolish these statutory instruments if elected.’

If the law is not made retrospective, the ASU put an alternative proposition that AWAs made before the passage of the Transition Bill, but after 1 December 2007, and which subsequently fail the current fairness test (or preferably the new ‘no-disadvantage test’), should be able to be terminated by either party prior to the nominal expiry date of the AWA.

‘In the current case of Qantas Valet Parking, workers have been forced to accept five-year AWAs as a condition of employment,’ Stitt said.

Terminate AWAs

‘The Transition Bill should be amended to enable these employees to terminate their AWA if their AWA fails either the fairness test or the no-disadvantage test.'

‘If this does not occur, these workers will remain locked out of Labor’s new industrial system until 2013 and will not benefit from the stated policy objective of Labor to create access to a fairer bargaining system.’

Stitt said that individual contracts presented as a ‘take it or leave it’ condition of employment will never enable genuine or good-faith bargaining on just terms.

‘It is clear that employees acting alone can never match the bargaining power of employers and that individual agreements will result in the imposition of unfair terms and conditions of employment on individual employees,’ she said.

The circumstances surrounding the Qantas Valet Parking AWA offer and the content of the AWA are the subject of investigations by both the Workplace Ombudsman and the Victorian Workplace Rights Advocate.


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