November 2001 - the month in IR

News

November 2001 - the month in IR

While Prime Minister John Howard signalled that IR reform was a top priority when announcing his new ministerial line-up (see 302/2001), the Government looks likely to continue to face obstacles getting through its IR reforms (see 255/2001) with the Democrats retaining the balance of power in the Senate.

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

After the election

While Prime Minister John Howard signalled that IR reform was a top priority when announcing his new ministerial line-up (see 302/2001), the Government looks likely to continue to face obstacles getting through its IR reforms (see 255/2001) with the Democrats retaining the balance of power in the Senate. Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott held onto his portfolio after the November 10 poll, but picked up the position held by his predecessor Peter Reith as Leader of the House. He also becomes Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service.

Meanwhile, new Shadow IR Minister Robert McClelland - replacing Arch Bevis who stood down in the ALP's post-election rethink (see 294/2001) - signalled he may sit down and talk with the Government about reforms to unfair dismissal (303/2001). These would exclude small business employers, focus less on procedural objections and concentrate on the reason for dismissal; and close access via state forums for employees unable to access federal dismissal remedies. He indicated he would only be prepared to do so if the Government did it in good faith.

The election aftermath has caused heated discussion between Labor MPs and the industrial wing of the party, with new Opposition Leader and former ACTU president Simon Crean coming under pressure to review the rule which gives unions 60% of the vote at ALP congress (see 294 and 295/2001). On the day Crean addressed the final ACTU executive meeting for the year, ACTU secretary Greg Combet warned that members of the ALP were falling victim to John Howard's 'wedge politics' (see 308/2001). ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the union body welcomed debate about the relationship and said the ALP should be looking at its priorities as the ACTU had done over the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, in NSW former Labor Council secretary Michael Costa was promoted to replace the retiring Paul Whelan as Police Minister - after only 17 days in Parliament (see 294/2001). Premier Bob Carr defended his choice saying the man who had brought industrial peace for the Olympics was a seasoned negotiator.

 

Reasonable hours test case begins

The AIRC held two weeks of hearings into the ACTU's test case, and hearings have now adjourned until 4 February next year, when another two weeks have been set aside. Most of the evidence so far has been from ACTU witnesses.

The case opened with the five Labor States giving their support to the peak body's case (see 293/2001). The Victorian Government produced evidence from ACIRRT (see 293 and 263/2001), showing similar trends for Victorian and all Australian workers, showing:

  • There was a 71% increase in the number of full-time workers working more than 45 hours a week, in the past 20 years.
  • Only 29.6% of the workforce was working 'standard' hours of between 35 and 40 hours a week, 17.1% of the workforce worked between 41 and 50 hours per week, and a further 8.5% worked more than 51 hours per week;
  • 15% of all Victorian employees wanted to work fewer hours, as did one third of employees working more than 60 hours a week.

Meanwhile, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry rejected the union movement's call for a 'reasonable hours' clause to be added to awards and instead put up an idea for a counterclaim to annualise salaries, incorporating overtime into that payment (see 32001).

Living wage claim 2002

The ACTU has filed its latest claim for a $25 a week increase for Australia's lowest-paid workers (see 264/2001). A preliminary hearing will be held in the federal Industrial Relations Commission on 20 December. At its final meeting for the year, ACTU executive also determined to consider ways to close the gap between award and bargained rates of pay (see 307/2001).

Casuals and redundancy test case

The ACTU has said it will pursue a test case to increase casual loadings to 25% and give them the chance to convert to permanency after six months' continuous service (see 307/2001). It will also seek to increase the redundancy benefit from the present eight weeks capped to three weeks per year of service uncapped, plus an increased notice period of four weeks' notice after three years' service

It also announced it will:

  • Spend $1 million on delegate training through the Union Education Foundation;
  • Assess ways to help low-income earners save $1000 to access the Federal Government's co-payment on superannuation, announced in the run-up to the federal election;
  • Continue to campaign for paid maternity leave and the inclusion of equal pay principles in key awards and industries;
  • Survey Australian workplaces to find out employee priorities.
Casuals to access unfair dismissal remedies

A full bench of the Federal Court has ruled invalid Regulations made by the Federal Government under the Workplace Relations Act which stopped casual employees from accessing unfair dismissal laws until they had 12 months employment (see previous story 121/2001). In a case taken by a former KFC employee, the bench found casuals could now access the laws after three months. Employers - especially the Australian Hotels Association - immediately protested, saying employers would now be wary of taking the risk of hiring casual staff. Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has signalled his intention to change that legislatively, so they would not be able to access it within first 12 months.

Since that decision

, a short-term casual has been allowed to proceed with her case (see previous story 122/2001). 

 

Also, overtime payments for casuals working outside the span of ordinary hours are to be used to calculate superannuation payments, following a recent Federal Court decision (see previous story 125/2001). 
 
Tasmanian transmission of business Bill

 

The Tasmanian Government has introduced the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill to address what happens to workers' conditions upon transmission of business. Following a pledge by IR Minister Peter Patmore after the ALP state conference in August (see 191/2001), the Bill would insert a new section into the Tasmanian Industrial Relations Act 1984 to provide that upon transfer of a business, or part of business, the previous award or agreement would be binding on the new employer. Continuity of service is also guaranteed under the Bill. The Federal Government tried to ensure new employers were not automatically bound by existing awards and agreements with its Workplace Relations Amendment (Transmission of Business) Bill 2001, but it was stalled at parliamentary review committee stage.

Bargaining fees not part of employment relationship

The Federal Court found whitegoods manufacturer Electrolux was entitled to relief over industrial action taken by workers in pursuit of an enterprise bargaining claim (see previous story 120/2001).  While it said their claims for employee entitlements to be paid into trust funds were legitimate, it said the pursuit of bargaining agents' clauses for unions were not part of the employment relationship, and the action in pursuit of that claim was not protected.

Maternity leave

New Zealand has agreed to introduce 12 weeks paid maternity leave for mothers having babies from July 1 next year, leaving Australia and the United States alone among industrialised countries who do not pay the benefit (see 301/2001). The payment of $325 gross per week, or 100% of the previous wage, whichever is lower, is equal to just over half (53%) of average weekly earnings. To be eligible, women (or males, if they are the primary carer) must have worked for one employer for at least 10 hours a week for the year before birth or adoption. The payment also applies to same sex relationships. Women who only take six weeks maternity leave will only be entitled to six weeks payment.

Meanwhile, some 15,000 NSW local government workers won nine weeks' paid maternity leave.

And in the United Kingdom, the Blair Government has introduced its Employment Bill 2001, which will extend paid maternity and adoption leave from 18 weeks to 26 weeks, with another six months unpaid. It also allows for two weeks' paid leave for fathers who work, has increased the amount of payment by 60% from £62 to £100 and will reimburse payments by employers for parental leave (100% for small employers and extra compensation on top). New parents also receive a £1000 baby bonus.

The Blair Government has announced it will legislate for more flexible working hours in the United Kingdom, as a result of recommendations of the Work and Parents Taskforce, which since June has been looking for flexible work practices. The new proposals, which the Government expects will affect up to 3.6 million working parents with children under the age of six and another 200,000 working parents of children with disabilities, are expected to become law in April 2003.

Industrial manslaughter laws

The Bracks Government has introduced industrial manslaughter legislation which could see Victorian company directors face up to five years' jail or fines of $180,000 for gross negligence leading to workplace death (see 300/2001). The Crimes (Workplace Deaths & Serious Injuries) Bill, also includes fines for corporations of up to $5 million for a death and $2 million for serious injury.

The Australian Industry Group's Victorian head, Paul Fennelly, said he would lobby against the legislation being passed in the next session of Parliament as he doubted whether there would be a long-term saving of life or lessening of injuries under the laws as they focused on 'retribution not education'.

And in Queensland, employer group Commerce Queensland has said it will oppose similar legislation the Beattie Government is thinking of introducing under the Queensland Criminal Code. A conviction would see individuals or corporations liable for a maximum seven years jail and $502,5000 fine for death or grievous bodily harm in the workplace.

Victoria - employment of children

Victorian IR Minister Monica Gould released an issues paper, 'Children at work? The protection of children engaged in work activities: policy challenges and choices for Victoria'. The paper, released as part of the first review into child employment laws in Victoria for 30 years, is available at: www.irv.vic.gov.au  Community round tables will be held throughout the state (ring 132215 for details) and written submissions should be sent to the Child Employment Review Team before 15 February next year.

Vic police pay deal

Victorian police and the Bracks Government have finally ended long-running disputation with the workers accepting a Government deal which will see their pay rise 35% over five years. This will bring them on par with NSW officers. Police had been holding out for the new amount, but the Government had been offering rises of between 12% and 24% (see 185/2001).

NSW workers' compensation

The controversial NSW workers' compensation reform Bill was passed through Parliament on November 29, although with the Government agreeing to reduce the 20% whole-of-body threshold before workers can sue at common law (as recommended by the Sheahan report) to 15% (see previous story 122001). The Government also agreed to continue to allow insurers the discretion to commute a weekly benefit into a lump sum. IR Minister John Della Bosca said the changes would give injured workers an extra $90 million in benefits and would cut down disputes and delays.

He also announced appointments for the new Workers' Compensation Commission (see 287/2001). Justice Terence Sheahan has been appointed Commission President, while Gary Byron and Gabriel Fleming are to be Deputy Presidents. Helen Walker will be the Commission's Registrar. Justice Sheahan, currently a Land and Environment Court judge, is a former NSW Attorney General. He conducted the judicial inquiry into the common law aspects of the WorkCover Scheme.

Labor Council of NSW secretary John Robertson announced the union movement was considering counteracting by running a test case in the NSW IRC to increase the level of workers' compensation benefits available through the award system from the current $250,000 to $500,000.

Outworkers

Clothing industry outworkers are regularly working 12 to 19 hours a day, for as little as 50 cents an hour and averaging $3.60 an hour, a Melbourne University study, 'Home Sweat Home', has found.

And in NSW, IR Minister John Della Bosca has followed up a promise from earlier this year (see 192/2001) by legislation as part of a $4m package to protect outworkers. It will mean tougher penalties for those who don't pay outworkers, and requires retailers and manufacturers to adopt industry codes of conduct. It also establishes an Ethical Clothing Trades Council to name those who fail to comply.

Curb on unfair contract claims

Executives who have found relief from dismissal in the unfair contracts section of the NSW Industrial Relations Act will soon find their options curtailed, with the Carr Government planning on cutting back on the conditions governing such a claim to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (see 292001).

MUA found guilty of coercion to use union labour

The Federal Court has fined the Maritime Union of Australia $150,000 - plus costs - for breaching the secondary boycott provisions of the Trades Practices Act and engaging in harassment and coercion. The union admitted, after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission challenges, that it had used a range of potential behaviours to make two overseas ships use MUA labour to clean ships when in Australian ports.

Qld IR changes

The Queensland Parliament passed amendments to the IR Act on November 29. These mean the state's IRC will set an annual minimum wage for all employees, and casuals will be entitled to unpaid bereavement and carers leave (see 228/2001). The amendments also introduce the idea of 'comparable value' in pay equity proposals.

WA Govt cops flack over slow pace of reform

WA unions have resolved to take action (see 298/2001) because the new IR legislation promised by the Gallop Labor Government - to repeal and replace the first, second and third waves of Court Government legislation, dating from 1993 - had not been forthcoming in July, as promised (see 27/2001). The sorts of issues the workers want addressed included union right of entry, good faith bargaining and a safety net, including addressing casual loadings which were only 15% in WA but ran from around 20% to 25% in other jurisdictions.

A spokesperson for IR Minister John Kobelke defended the delays, saying the Government preferred to do the job properly first time and adding that the unions' campaign wouldn't speed up the legislation. 'Repealing it all is a complex bill of legislative reform, more than 250 pages, and then we're replacing it and we want to get that right,' he said.

Meanwhile, WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty has introduced legislation aimed at outlawing discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual workers.

And  people who are addicted to prohibited drugs will be excluded from being 'persons with a disability' for the purposes of the disability discrimination in work provisions of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act (see previous story 313/2001). 

BHP individual contracts

 

The WA IRC awarded pay rises of 20% and an extra 6% to super contributions to 470 workers in BHP's Pilbara iron ore operations who had refused to sign individual contracts.

AIRC annual report

The total number of agreements certified in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission increased by a significant 30% in the 2000-01 reporting year, but the average processing time for the most common form of agreement increased by 50%, according to the AIRC's 2000-01 Annual Report. The total number of certified agreements rose to 7,316 in 2000-01, compared to just 5,539 agreements in 1999-00 (see 278/2001).

Wages growth steady at 3.9%

Federal agreements certified in the September quarter delivered a 3.9% average annualised wage increase for workers, unchanged from the previous quarter, according to the latest report from the Department of Workplace Relations.

Forum shopping

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission has made a ruling on the question of concurrent proceedings in separate jurisdictions over the same dismissal. The Commission confirmed that the legislation prohibited the making of an unfair dismissal application under federal Workplace Relations Act if proceedings had been commenced in other jurisdictions. However, the Commission ruled it cannot refrain from hearing an unfair dismissal application that has already commenced if another proceeding is then commenced in another jurisdiction (see previous story 124/2001). 

 
Labour hire

 

A labour hire company has been ordered to pay compensation to a worker who was unfairly dismissed by a client employer (see previous story 314/2001). The WA Industrial Relations Commission found that despite the provisions of the contract there were other factors, including the deduction of tax and the payment of workers compensation premiums by the labour hire company that indicated there was an employment relationship between the recruiter and the worker.

Qantas enterprise agreement negotiations

While maintenance workers at Qantas have been taking industrial action over enterprise agreement negotiations, 8,500 members of the Australian Services Union have agreed to a 12-month wage freeze proposed by management (see 259/2001). In return, they win six weeks' paid maternity leave and 95% discounted travel for employees with seven years service (down from 15 years). The workers have also won assurances on contracting out, conversion to full-time employment for permanent part-time workers who work more than 35 hours a week for 48 weeks, and profit-linked bonuses. Short-haul flight attendants also accepted the wage freeze. Qantas this month announced it would shed 1500 jobs in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US (see 290/2001).

Meanwhile, Ansett administrators told union faithful at an ACTU awards ceremony they expected to be able to pay 100% of workers' entitlements 'without one cent from the Federal Government' (see 309/2001).

Harassment justifies dismissals

The AIRC has confirmed extreme acts of harassment justified the dismissal of five airline workers (see previous story 3). The applicants alleged that they were unaware of the airline's anti-harassment policy and that their dismissal for breaching it was thus unfair and unjust. However, Senior Deputy President Lea Drake said given the extreme nature of the case and the fact that the airline's anti-harassment policy might not have been enforced did not make the dismissals unfair. The particular conduct of the applicants was of such an objectionable nature that any employee would know or should have known that such conduct was misconduct of the most obvious kind.

Indirect discrimination

Wollongong City Council indirectly discriminated against women managers by not providing them with cars, as it did for the majority of their male counterparts, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal has ruled.

New award coverage for IT industry

The AIRC has made one common-rule award binding IT industry employers. The Commission varied the Information Technology (Professional Engineers) Award to cover tens of thousands of IT professionals.

People

Derrick Belan has been elected to take the place of his father as NSW branch secretary of the NUW. Frank Belan died in October (see 242/2001).

Bryan Noakes is retiring from ACCI as Melbourne-based executive director after 39 years - his replacement is Peter Anderson, senior adviser to former federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith and his successor Tony Abbott.

Vic IR head Geoff Fary is tipped to be considering leaving because of frustration over what he sees as blocking by departmental heads for workplace reforms.

 
Post details