Labor to set up a 'one-stop IR shop'

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Labor to set up a 'one-stop IR shop'

Labor is proposing a radical new industrial relations system in which every aspect of workplace relations will be handled by a 'one-stop shop' process that will set minimum wages, mediate in disputes, and enforce compliance with the law.

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Labor is proposing a radical new industrial relations system in which every aspect of workplace relations will be handled by a 'one-stop shop' process that will set minimum wages, mediate in disputes, and enforce compliance with the law.

The new policy, called Fair Work Australia, was announced last night by ALP IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, and elaborated on further today by her and Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd.

In response, Prime Minister John Howard said the new system would be dominated by 'union bosses'.

In a statement Rudd and Gillard said Fair Work Australia will be a one-stop shop to provide practical information, advice and assistance to employees and employers.

Central information service

There will be offices in major urban and regional centres and workplace visits will be available. Fair Work Australia will have a central telephone information service and will publish workplace information on its website.

It will have the power to resolve unfair dismissals and enforce compliance with Federal Labor's new workplace laws.

'It will be easily accessible to all Australians, efficient, effective and informal,' they said. 'In most cases, lawyers will not be necessary.'

Range of functions

Fair Work Australia will be responsible for a range of functions, including:

  • Providing information and advice to Australian employers and employees
  • Facilitating collective bargaining and ensuring good faith bargaining
  • Reviewing and approving collective agreements
  • Resolving unfair and unlawful dismissal claims
  • Assisting parties resolve workplace grievances
  • Monitoring compliance and ensuring the application of workplace laws, including minimum conditions, awards and agreements
  • Overseeing mandatory secret ballots and enforcing Federal Labor's tough industrial action laws
  • Determining minimum wages and publishing pay scales
  • Reviewing Federal Labor's simplified industry awards, and
  • Regulating registered industrial organisations

Rudd and Gillard said Fair Work Australia will have particular responsibility for promoting working arrangements that assist employees to balance their work and family responsibilities.

Comply with the rules

'It will ensure that all employers, employees and unions across all industries comply with the rules and will impose penalties if they do not,' they said.

Fair Work Australia will consolidate the work of three current agencies: the Fair Pay Commission, the Office of the Employment Advocate, the Office of Workplace Services — along with the AIRC.

At a press conference this morning Gillard said people with industrial relations issues would no longer have to travel to a central business district, but would have a centre they could use closer to workplaces. She reiterated that under Labor the only form of protected industrial action would continue to be in a period where people are bargaining for a new agreement.

'In other circumstances, the industrial action is not protected, so industrial action can be dealt with through the compliance section of Fair Work Australia and there will be penalties that prevent people persisting with unlawful industrial action,' she said.

Need for third party

'From time to time there are disputes at the workplace where people, having made a reasonable attempt to sort it out themselves, actually like someone to come and help them sort through it. 

'Many award and agreement disputes-settling procedures specify that they would like a third party as the ultimate settler of disputes.  When parties have agreed to that, then Fair Work Australia can play that role. 

'And then of course, in the national economy, where industrial action can do so much harm, you always need a body that can sort out major industrial disputes that are causing significant harm to the Australian economy or that are threatening essential services.'

Wage fixing at enterprise level

Gillard said the focus of wage fixing under Labor's system is going to be at the individual enterprise level.

'The future for wages in this country is if you can work with your employer to make your business better, then wage increases can flow from that,' she said. 'There will be no interconnection between a wage rise in one enterprise with wages rises in another.'

However, she said Labor wants to have minimum wages that are decent and fair to Australian working families 'and that's why Fair Work Australia will be fixing those minimum wages'.

'When it comes to fixing those minimum wages, Fair Work Australia will be specifically asked to consider what is decent for Australian working families, what is good for employment, what is good for productivity, what is good in terms of keeping inflation down, and what is good in terms of downwards pressure on interest rates,' she said.

Greater power to union bosses, says Howard

However, Prime Minister John Howard said the new plan was 'a political device to give the impression of modernity but in reality it will hand back even greater power to union bosses in a centralised body'.

'It's all about the politics of industrial relations — it's not to do with the substance,' he said.

Rudd rejected this and said the plan did not cater only for unions, but would allow people to be represented the way they wanted.

'This is not some arrangement designed to assist unions,' he said 'When it comes to unions, they have a role in the economy. It's equally possible, under the system that we're proposing, for anyone to be represented by non-unions.'

Nonsense, says Gillard

Gillard has also dismissed the Government's attacks about 'union bosses'.

'Of course, all of that is nonsense,' she said. 'Fair Work Australia will be truly independent and the job description there will be about being able to get the job properly done.'

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