NSW Libs support public service exemptions to WorkChoices

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NSW Libs support public service exemptions to WorkChoices

The NSW Liberal Party will not oppose the State Government’s legislation to remove 186,000 public servants from the Federal Government’s WorkChoices IR laws - but will continue to support the application of WorkChoices to the whole State.

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The NSW Liberal Party will not oppose the State Government’s legislation to remove 186,000 public servants from the Federal Government’s WorkChoices IR laws - but will continue to support the application of WorkChoices to the whole State.

This contradictory position was confirmed to WorkplaceInfo today by a spokesman for NSW Opposition leader Peter Debnam.

The spokesman said the NSW Opposition would not oppose the legislation, and the reasons for this will be given in Opposition speeches when the Legislative Council debates the legislation this week.

Asked whether this meant the Liberals would be abandoning their support for WorkChoices overall, the spokesman said there was ‘no change’ to its WorkChoices policy.

Rumours running

However there are persistent rumours that the NSW Liberals are reconsidering their commitment to WorkChoices because of concerns that support for the national IR system would hurt their chances of winning the next State election.

Up to this point the Liberals in NSW have said that if they are elected at the poll in March next year they will hand the State’s industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth, as the Kennett Liberal Government did in Victoria, which would result in virtually the whole State being under the WorkChoices laws.

This position was stated by former Opposition Leader John Brogden and subsequently confirmed by Debnam.

The question must therefore be asked: if the Liberals win government will they then seek to overturn the legislation they are now not opposing?

Backing off from commitment to cede their IR powers could be catastrophic for the Howard Government as prior to the passing of the WorkChoices legislation last December it had been vigorously opposed by National Party forces in Queensland and Liberal Party State-rights proponents in WA.

Challenge to WorkChoices

Other State Governments will now be under pressure from public sector unions to follow NSW’s example and move to exempt public servants from WorkChoices.

As it is, WorkChoices will only apply to less than 85% of employees nation wide, and if State Governments begin exempting their public servants who currently work for State controlled corporations that figure will drop further.

The planned simpler and more cohesive national system under WorkChoices could become fractured.

Position of NSW Liberals

During the second reading speeches in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday night Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations Chris Hartcher complained the Bill had been rushed into the Lower House without proper consultation and that he had had difficulty in getting a copy of it.

Hartcher also criticised the Government’s performance regarding the public service. However he avoided dealing with the substance of the legislation in any way.

Hartcher was followed by a series of speeches in support of the legislation by Labor MPs, but no speeches in opposition from the Liberal or National parties.

Not opposing the legislation puts the Opposition in the impossible position of effectively agreeing to the removal of NSW public servants from Commonwealth legislation which they otherwise unreservedly support.

Under the NSW legislation employees of State controlled corporations such as Area Health Boards and the State Transit Authority will become public servants paid directly by the Government.

This will remove them from WorkChoices as it only applies to employees of corporations.

Further changes effected by NSW legislation

As well, all consent awards in the State system will become agreements, to prevent them being deemed to be notional federal agreements under the new federal system. They will thus not be subject to the Fair Pay Conditions Standards.

And in addition, the powers of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission will be extended to allow it to rule on common law agreements between employers and workers.

All these moves will further reduce the number of employees the Howard Government’s national IR system will cover.

Debnam’s position in not opposing the exemption of public servants from WorkChoices is doubly ironic because he is on record as wanting to sack at least 29,000 of them if he wins the next election.

Related

Unions cheer NSW IR moves, employers say they add to confusion

 

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