Ministers to ‘try again’ in bid for national IR system

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Ministers to ‘try again’ in bid for national IR system

Australian’s State and Federal IR Ministers have failed to agree on setting up a national workplace relations regime, but have agreed that the forthcoming Fair Work Australia (FWA) legislation provides a ‘foundation’ for such a system.

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Australia’s State and Federal IR Ministers have failed to agree on setting up a national workplace relations regime, but have agreed that the forthcoming Fair Work Australia (FWA) legislation provides a ‘foundation’ for such a system.

Meeting in Melbourne yesterday, the Ministers issued a communiqué which said that senior officials from all jurisdictions would meet further ‘to discuss matters concerning the transition to a new national workplace relations system for the private sector, in particular issues relating to governance and service delivery including compliance and tribunals’.

The Ministers acknowledged the draft legislation as ’providing the foundation for a national workplace relations system for the private sector based on Forward with Fairness’.

Briefed on new laws

During the meeting, Federal IR Minister Julia Gillard briefed the State Ministers on the new legislation, which is due for tabling in Federal Parliament in the next few weeks.

The Federal Government’s preferred position is that the States cede their IR powers so that a national IR system can be set up in a relatively quick and clean way.

The alternative, ‘harmonised’ national and state laws, would be far messier and take much longer.

Unions’ position

However, the Labor State Governments (with the exception of Victoria, which has already referred its powers) have obligations to the unions, which prefer the arbitration powers of state tribunals.

The current WorkChoices legislation specifically forbids arbitration in the federal sphere, and there will only be limited arbitration under FWA.

That will be where one or more of the parties to industrial action are suffering significant economic damage, but the details of how this will work have not been spelled out.

WA says ‘no’

The only non-Labor state at the meeting, Western Australia, has indicated it will not be referring its IR powers in the short term.

WA Treasurer and Commerce Minister Troy Buswell told the Australian Financial Review his State was ‘highly unlikely’ to refer its remaining IR powers to the Commonwealth.

Instead, the WA Government will review state workplace legislation before overhauling the laws put in place by the previous Labor Government.

‘Significant’ points of difference

Buswell said the ‘significant’ points of difference the WA Government had with Federal Labor’s IR plans included reducing the unfair dismissals threshold from 100 to 15, and the ‘good faith bargaining’ regime, which would widen the arbitration powers.

New South Wales and Queensland have already expressed their reservations about referring their powers, with NSW Commissioning a report that encouraged a system of harmonisation and allowed State Governments to voluntarily enter and withdraw from a national IR system.

It seems Gillard will have to do a lot of negotiating if there is to be a true national system when FWA comes into full operation on 1 January, 2010.

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