States may get ‘veto’ over national IR changes

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States may get ‘veto’ over national IR changes

The States have been given a watching brief over the setting up of a new national IR system, and can decide ‘if and how’ they join it, according to a communiqué released after a meeting of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) in Brisbane on Friday.

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The States have been given a watching brief over the setting up of a new national IR system, and can decide ‘if and how’ they join it, according to a communiqué released after a meeting of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) in Brisbane on Friday.

The States may also have the power to vet any amendments to the national system after it comes into operation on 1 January 2010.

NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca said the State Ministers had been given an undertaking by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard that they would have a draft of the substantive Fair Work Australia Bill by October.

‘We don’t believe in a one glove fits all approach and there needs to be a number of conditions in place for there to be a successful national system,’ Della Bosca said.

Five principles

The communiqué also revealed a set of five ‘principles’ for governing a uniform national workplace relations system.

These included that the States will be able to elect if and how they opt into the national system, for example by full referral of powers, text-based referral, mirror legislation or harmonisation.

It will also be open to States to include specific issues and/or particular areas in the national system beyond those currently covered, eg public sector employees.

It was agreed that the WRMC will oversee the operation of a national workplace relations system.

As well, any amendments to the national IR system after it comes into operation on 1 January 2010 will also have to go before the WRMC, possibly even before they are sent to be drafted.

Under such a system, amendments would have to be consistent with the ‘pillars’ of the new system or they will ‘jeopardise the continuation of the uniform national workplace relations system for the private sector and may lead to costs that require compensation’.

Pillars

The agreed ‘pillars’ of the system are:
  • strong, simple and enforceable safety net of minimum employment standards
  • genuine rights and responsibilities to ensure fairness, choice and representation at work, including the freedom to choose whether or not to join and be represented by a union or participate in collective activities
  • collective bargaining at the enterprise level with no provision for individual statutory agreements
  • fair and effective remedies available through an independent umpire
  • protection from unfair dismissal
  • seamless service delivery arrangements
  • cooperation between all governments in the development and implementation of a national workplace relations system.

The State and Federal IR Ministers further agreed that the High Level Officials Group established at their last meeting to discuss the substantive reforms should now develop a draft inter-governmental agreement for the new national workplace relations system for consideration at the next WRMC meeting.

NSW demands

Della Bosca said New South Wales was committed to agreeing to a national system that:

  • features a robust independent umpire who has the power to resolve disputes effectively
  • has a flexible, socially-determined minimum wage that does not just consider economic factors but also looks at the day-to-day circumstances of working families
  • features a general safety net for employees and a specific safety net for vulnerable workers
  • recognises that State-based industrial organisations have a vital role to play in the on-going management of Forward with Fairness.


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