‘Revolutionary’ national IR scheme will be more complex, conference told


‘Revolutionary’ national IR scheme will be more complex, conference told

A national workplace relations system would not be a ‘simpler’ system than the current states/federal one, in fact it will be more complex, a leading IR academic has told a national conference.


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A national workplace relations system would not be a ‘simpler’ system than the current states/federal one, in fact it will be more complex, a leading IR academic has told a national conference.

And a former senior member of the AIRC has called the proposed changes ‘a counter-revolution’.

Professor Stewart

Professor Andrew Stewart, a former Dean of Law at Flinders University in Adelaide, said it was a myth that a national IR system would be a simpler system.

He told the ‘Fair Go or Anything Goes’ conference in Sydney last week that, at least at the beginning, there would be great complexity.

‘There will be many sources of regulation, and it will be difficult to figure out which awards, agreements or AWAs apply, and what has legal effect,’ he said.

‘Obviously there will be overlapping of federal and state systems, for example in OHS regulations.’

Complex legislation

Professor Stewart said a further problem is the prolixity of the federal legislation.

‘The Workplace Relations Act (WRA) is a nightmare; it is abysmally drafted and full of excessive detail,’ he said.

‘It tries to prescribe in minute detail what should and should not be done, and the more you do this the more problems you cause.

‘Amendments to the WRA already in Parliament offer hundreds of new complexities and additions.’

Loss of trust

Professor Stewart said there is a loss of trust in the regulatory bodies, particularly the AIRC, to operate in broad guidelines.

‘Will it get better? There is not much chance. There is no real prospect of holistic regulation even when everyone is in AWAs,’ he said.

Cooperation needed

Professor Stewart said the solution is ‘cooperation not confrontation, and a renewal of trust in institutions to exercise powers’.

He said a further problem was that if independent contractors were to be encouraged, ‘will the Commonwealth enshrine the right of employers to disguise employees as contractors?’

‘Are all deeming provisions to be banned?’ he asked.

‘If that is the case, how does it reconcile with the safeguarding of revenues and saving for retirement?

‘Treasurer Costello talks about setting aside money for the “greying population”.

‘But if more and more people move out of the superannuation guarantee scheme into contracting, how will the need for saving for retirement be affected?

‘The government has not yet come to terms with these issues.’

Paul Munro - former AIRC member

Former Senior President of the AIRC Paul Munro said the impact of the proposed changes will be further limiting of the powers of the AIRC.

‘It is a radical departure,’ he said. ‘The AIRC is to lose a significant part of its safety net powers.

‘The safety net has been shredded. There will be a big hole for the quasi-employees [contractors]. There will be a great increase in less regulations and precariousness for independent contactors.’

Likely pay developments

Munro said the Fair Pay Commission will set the rate for the [Metal Industry Award] C14 classification ‘and those above it as long as they continue to exist'.

‘There will be no “no disadvantage” test, the Office of Employment Advocate (OEA) will cover agreements from template to approval,’ he said.

‘The Pharmacists Guild set up a template with the OEA which applies to 30,000 pharmacy workers and 15,000 pharmacists - no “pattern bargaining” there!’

‘Prime Minister Howard says it is not radical change, it is significant change. I call it a counter-revolution.’

'Slow Pay Commission'

Munro referred to the Fair Pay Commission as the 'Slow Pay Commission' and said it reminded him of a verse from the humourist Hilaire Belloc, who wrote:

“I am a sundial, I make a botch

Of what is done much better by a watch.”

He said that under the Fair Pay Commission there would be no adjustment to the current minimum hourly rate of $12.74 for at least 18 months ‘if at all’.

‘The “Slow Pay Commission” will start off with a wage freeze, or at least a slow down,’ he said.

Margaret Lee, who teaches labour and EEO law at Griffith University in Brisbane, said there had been ‘a really steep decline in effective industrial enforcement against law breaking employers by Federal Government agencies’.

“People are not as stupid as this government thinks they are,’ she said.

‘My branch of the National Tertiary Education Union at Griffith University is skyrocketing in numbers, and we haven’t even started recruiting yet,’ she said.


Federal IR changes 2005

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