New IR laws to start with only Vic on board: Gillard

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New IR laws to start with only Vic on board: Gillard

IR Minister Julia Gillard has today introduced new legislation to allow the states to participate in a national workplace relations system, with Victoria the first state to agree to hand over its powers.

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IR Minister Julia Gillard has today introduced new legislation to allow the states to participate in a national workplace relations system, with Victoria the first state to agree to hand over its powers.
 
Victoria already did this in the 1990s to become part of the federal Workplace Relations Act system — which subsequently evolved into WorkChoices — but Victoria needs to do so again to become part of Fair Work Australia.
 
In her second reading speech, Gillard admitted that only Victoria will be on board when Fair Work Australia begins on 1 July this year, and the Federal Government will have to continue negotiations with the other states.
 
Vic hands over public sector
 
Victoria is also handing over unincorporated and public sector employers and employees to the new system — something other states, particularly New South Wales and Western Australia, are reluctant to do.
 
South Australia and Queensland also want to keep state public servants and local government workers in their state systems.
 
However, Tasmania is facing a financial crisis and there are suggestions it may hand over its IR powers to the federal system.
 
In introducing the Fair Work (State Referral and Consequential and Other Amendments) Bill 2009 Gillard said it was the next step in the creation of the national workplace relations system for the private sector promised by this government.
 
Fresh referral
 
‘In making a fresh referral, the Victorian Government has recognised the benefits of a national workplace relations system, including eliminating the costs and confusion for business and employees of dealing with separate workplace relations systems and instruments,’ she said.
 
‘Over the coming months we anticipate other states will also take the step of becoming full participants in implementing this crucial national reform.’
 
Gillard said state and territory governments have been extensively consulted on all aspects of the Fair Work legislation.
 
She said the Victorian Government was expected to pass a Bill to make a ‘text-based’ referral of its IR powers before 1 July.
 
New powers
 
The legislation is expected to refer to the Federal Government the power to:
  • enact text that would extend the Fair Work Act in Victoria to cover unincorporated and public sector employers and their employees, outworker entities, and extend the application of the general protections in a referring state
  • amend the Fair Work Act in relation to specified subject matters
  • effect the transition of Victorian referral employees and employers from the system in place under the Workplace Relations Act 1996, as extended by the Commonwealth Powers (Industrial Relations) Act 1996 (Vic), to the new system created by the Fair Work Act.
 
While admitting that Victoria is likely to be the only ‘referring’ state when FWA comes into operation, Gillard said the Bill establishes a framework that is ready to be adapted in future Commonwealth legislation to accommodate anticipated further references from other states.
 
States can choose
 
The Bill also provides scope for referring states to choose the extent to which the Act would cover their public sector workforces.
 
‘The Australian Government is continuing to work cooperatively with other states to secure references of power in time for full commencement of the system on 1 January 2010,’ Gillard said (1 January 2010 will see the NES and the modern awards come into operation).
 
‘In this context, the government anticipates that the reference framework provided in the Bill may be further amended to take into account the views and needs of the other states concerning their national system participation.'
 
Amendments possible
 
‘Some subject matters reflecting areas of regulatory responsibility of the state (such as equal opportunity and discrimination, occupational health and safety, public holidays, outworkers and workplace surveillance) will be excluded from the subject matters of the amendment reference.'
 
‘These matters generally correspond to those state laws the operation of which is preserved by the Fair Work Act.'
 
‘However, these exclusions will not prevent the Commonwealth from amending the Fair Work Act in relation to any of these matters to the extent that the Fair Work Act, as originally enacted, deals with them or enables modern awards and enterprise agreements to deal with these matters.’
 
Gillard said it is government policy to enable referring states to decide the extent to which their public sector workforces should be covered by the new system.
 
States can terminate referral
 
They will also be able to terminate the reference in certain circumstances.
 
She said the Bill would allow for a process for making state reference public sector modern awards.
 
Gillard said state governments participating in the national system will also be governed by a multilateral inter-governmental agreement (IGA), which will outline the principles of the national workplace relations system for the private sector and the roles and responsibilities of those participating states and territories and the Commonwealth.
 
Discussions ‘progressing’
 
‘The government has undertaken significant consultation with the state and territory governments and, while these discussions are progressing well, the multilateral IGA may not be finalised prior to the Victorian referral date of 1 July 2009,’ she said.
 
‘Accordingly, the Victorian referral will be governed by an interim bilateral IGA until the multilateral IGA is finalised with other participating states.’
 
The Bill also amends 67 Commonwealth Acts that refer to parts of the Workplace Relations Act.
 
Full text
 
The Bill is available online.
 
The Explanatory Memorandum is available online.
 
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