Parties can play political football with work safety net

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Parties can play political football with work safety net

The consequences of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices laws mean there may be a recurring national political contest over the wage and employment safety net, according to a Parliamentary Library research paper.

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The consequences of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices laws mean there may be a recurring national political contest over the wage and employment safety net, according to a Parliamentary Library research paper.

The paper also points out that non-award workers are in a ‘hiatus’ over redundancy pay until Fair Work Australia begins operating on 1 January 2010.

The paper, released today (Tuesday) sets out some of the key features associated with the safety net(s) for wages and employment conditions.

Conciliation and arbitration powers previously

It points out that for the more than 80 years prior to WorkChoices, federal workplace relations laws were based primarily on the Constitution’s conciliation and arbitration power, enabling an independent industrial tribunal to make and vary awards through the resolution of industrial disputes.

This approach changed under the Keating Government when certain employee entitlements were provided nationally relying on other constitutional powers [mainly external affairs powers using ILO conventions to bring in such matters as redundancy pay and anti-discrimination laws].

The paper says the shift to Parliament determining safety net standards was completed under the Howard Government’s WorkChoices amendments, relying on constitutional powers other than the conciliation and arbitration power, but relying mainly on the Constitution’s corporations power.

Minimum standards

Parliament could thus vary the standard working week from 38 hours and it could directly set the national minimum wage.

‘The scope of the safety net is proposed to be enhanced, evident in the Labor Government’s National Employment Standards (NES) which propose ten minimum conditions (in effect eleven standards including a minimum wage for award-free workers),’ the paper says.

‘This is in contrast to the Coalition Government’s five conditions under the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard (AFPCS), and certain other minimum entitlements.’

Some employees advantaged

The paper says employees who may have previously been employed as award-free workers are likely to have been advantaged by the advent of the AFPCS in 2006.

‘For award workers, an improvement to personal and compassionate leave is the result of superior AFPCS terms displacing similar award provisions,’ it says. ‘Some award workers also benefit from shorter working hours under the AFPCS.‘

Limitations of safety net

However, it says limitations of the safety net may arise when a business fails and where employees work under employment contracts and under award-free arrangements that are silent on redundancy.

‘The Australian Industrial Relation Commission (AIRC) does not appear to have the necessary award-making function to resolve these types of matters,’ the paper says. ‘Although, there may be other options available to resolve a redundancy situation.’

Redundancy hiatus

‘Labor’s proposed ten-point safety net redresses the question, but the timing of the reforms is likely to leave a hiatus until 2010, the paper concludes.


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Minimum employment standards [scroll down]
 

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