SA WorkChoices inquiry slams Govt IR laws

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SA WorkChoices inquiry slams Govt IR laws

A major report on WorkChoices by the South Australian Industrial Relations Commission has recommended that a body be set up to protect SA workers as much as possible from the worst effects of the Howard Government's IR legislation.

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A major report on WorkChoices by the South Australian Industrial Relations Commission has recommended that a body be set up to protect SA workers as much as possible from the worst effects of the Howard Government's IR legislation.

The report says such a body should provide 'advice, assistance, educational and public advocacy services to SA employees and employers with respect to Federal and State industrial relations matters and work-related matters generally'.

Its role should also include:

  • The investigation of illegal, unfair or otherwise inappropriate industrial practices with a view to promoting and raising public awareness of fair industrial practices
  • Referring findings as to suspected illegal industrial practices to appropriate enforcement agencies
  • Regular monitoring of the employment conditions of vulnerable groups of workers and referring information to appropriate bodies
  • The development and issuing of guidelines relating to workplace practices and procedures
  • The commissioning of research into the operation and effects of specific aspects of Work Choices
  • Liaising with similar authorities and agencies established in other States and Territories with the view to sharing and coordinating information and the funding and conduct of research activities in relation to WorkChoices and industrial relations issues generally

The report says there is broad agreement in SA that an industrial relations system should 'assist the economy to flourish by encouraging cooperative and productive relations between employers and employees, and should provide simple and readily accessible means of dispute resolution'.

Unduly complex

However, it finds WorkChoices is not a simplified system of workplace relations, and that it is unduly complex. It says this is partly because of the policy decision of the Federal Government to adopt an interventionist approach involving increased regulation of most aspects of an already complex industrial relations system.

'We conclude that WorkChoices is unfair and lacks balance,' the report says. 'The lowering of the underlying minimum standard of terms and conditions of employment, the further curtailment of the role of the independent AIRC, changes which encourage and give primacy to direct individual bargaining between employer and employee over collective bargaining, together with far reaching restrictions on access to a remedy for unfair dismissal, are features of WorkChoices which have substantially disadvantaged some employees to date and have the potential to disadvantage more in the future.

'The legislation has failed to deliver flexibility or fairness for employees as a whole.

Adverse effects

'We conclude that there is compelling evidence that the changes effected by WorkChoices to the agreement making process have had significant adverse effects on many employees and their representatives, and further that some of these changes have the potential to impact adversely on employers by hampering operational efficiencies and increasing transactional costs.'

With regard to AWAs, which cover only a small but increasing percentage of the SA workforce (possibly up to 4.5%), the report concluded that the bargaining process is 'weighted in favour of the employer more than ever'.

It said there is compelling evidence that most employees who made AWAs between the commencement of WorkChoices and 7 May 2007 (when the fairness test came in) suffered a loss of at least one but usually more protected award conditions without compensation.

The available data suggests that up to 27,000 employees in South Australia entered into WorkChoices AWAs which are not affected by the introduction of the fairness test, and which will continue for terms of up to five years from the date they were made unless terminated or replaced in the meantime.

Unfair dismissal

The report also attacks the restriction of the unfair dismissal laws to workplace with more than 100 employees.

'We consider there is cause for concern at the serious implications the lack of recourse to an unfair dismissal remedy has for many in the workforce, resulting as it does in a loss of self esteem, a sense of disempowerment, and anger and resentment at an inability to seek redress or to have grievances heard,' it says. 'We conclude also that there is a pervasive sense of job insecurity as a result of WorkChoices, particularly in lesser skilled and lower wage areas of employment. A substantial cause of this insecurity is the exclusion of many employees from any access to an unfair dismissal remedy.'

The report says WorkChoices has had a bad effect on the relationship between employers and their employees.

It says there appears to be a 'hardening attitude of some employers, who perceive WorkChoices as permitting them to engage in less conciliatory and more unilateral and arbitrary conduct towards employees, particularly when seeking to implement change in the workplace'.

'Fair go all round' abandoned

'It is apparent that one of the consequences of WorkChoices is the abandonment of the concept of a "fair go all round" for those employees now unable to access unfair dismissal provisions in exchange for the objectives of employment creation and employer flexibility.

'To the extent that these changes promote flexibility, they are to the benefit of employers and the detriment of employees.'

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