Smorgon Steel 'absolutely' rejects WorkChoices,  		conference told

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Smorgon Steel 'absolutely' rejects WorkChoices, conference told

The major steel manufacturer Smorgon Steel has completely rejected using the WorkChoices legislation to run its workforce, company General Manager of Human Resources, Sandra McDiarmid, told a conference in Sydney.

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The major steel manufacturer Smorgon Steel has completely rejected using the WorkChoices legislation to run its workforce, company General Manager of Human Resources, Sandra McDiarmid, told a conference in Sydney.

Asked at the Fair Go From Here conference whether she saw any positives in WorkChoices, McDiarmid said: 'no'.

'We have made an absolute decision to stand by what we are doing,' she said. 'WorkChoices won't change the way we do business on the ground.

'When we hear about what some other employers are doing we say: “That is not for us and will never be”.'

Can't see productivity gains

McDiarmid said if the company could see any productivity advantage in WorkChoices, such as from cutting wages, it might look at it, 'but we can't see it'.

Asked whether employers were just getting on with running their business regardless of WorkChoices, she said: 'Yes, if they are ethical.'

Referring to 'horror stories' regarding the exploitation of workers related to the conference by Unions NSW Secretary, John Robertson, McDiarmid said most big companies were OK, 'but some of those with fewer than 100 employees are a concern'.

'My fear is for my children and other people's children,' she said.

Too much power

McDiarmid said the removal of the no disadvantage test for AWAs 'is most concerning'. 'It moves power too much in one direction,' she said.

She said Smorgons had not had an AWA since WorkChoices, as it was not convinced that 'our employees wouldn't think we were trying to disadvantage them'. However, McDiarmid complained that because it had an existing workplace agreement which did not comply with WorkChoices, it could not tender for jobs that had federal funding.

She said a problem was that the AIRC can't vary existing agreements even if both sides agree. This meant Smorgons could not get rid of the clauses that conflict with the Federal Government's codes of industrial practice for federally funded projects - such as the building industry code.

Can't tender for government contracts

'Our unions are not excited at prematurely exiting an agreement with two years to go,' she said. 'Companies with pre-reform agreements are priced out of the market because they can't comply.'

McDiarmid said Smorgons mainly dealt with the NUW and AWU in its workplaces and 'WorkChoices will keep HR practitioners fully employed for years to come'.

She said that in a perfect world HR would set up a system and line managers would run it, and HR managers would 'do ourselves out of a job'. But Smorgon line managers had little desire to run WorkChoices - 'It is too complicated, you have to check with lawyers all the time'.

Not one system

McDiarmid said WorkChoices hasn't delivered one single national IR system.

She said that, for example, long service leave accrues differently in each State and Smorgons had 6000 employees, many of whom moved from State to State.

'We would like one set of rules for safety and workers comp too,' she said.

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