Unions, employers like the ‘good bits’ of new IR laws

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Unions, employers like the ‘good bits’ of new IR laws

Both employers and unions have welcomed the new details of Labor’s new IR laws, but only by interpreting them as favourable to their cause.

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Both employers and unions have welcomed the new details of Labor’s new IR laws, but only by interpreting them as favourable to their cause.
 
IR Minister Julia Gillard on Friday gave the first detailed explanation of how the new laws would work, revealing there would be increased access to arbitration in some situations, and existing AWAs would last as long as the parties wanted them to.
 
‘Killing off WorkChoices’
 
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the announcement was ‘another important step towards killing off WorkChoices’.
 
‘The empowerment of Fair Work Australia to issue binding determinations when parties persistently refuse to bargain in good faith will also ensure that there is a circuit-breaker for intractable disputes such as those at Telstra and Cochlear,’ Lawrence said.
 
‘This will prevent unscrupulous employers from snubbing their noses at the rights of their employees to collectively bargain.'
 
‘Arbitration as a last resort will be a key means of ensuring Labor's new IR system operates efficiently to deliver productivity gains as well as better wages and that the integrity of the collective bargaining system is upheld.’
 
However AiG chief executive Heather Ridout preferred to rely on the element of the new laws that says employers do not have to sign up to agreements they do not support.
 
Signs ‘reasonably encouraging’
 
Ridout said that Gillard’s comments meant the ‘signs are reasonably encouraging’ regarding the new IR laws.
 
She said the Government has confirmed that it will:
  • ensure that existing workplace agreements continue on indefinitely after expiry
  • create an express legislative provision that good-faith bargaining does not require a party to make concessions or sign up to an agreement which they do not support
  • set a high threshold for the ‘significant harm’ test, including the requirement that both the employer and employees be significantly harmed, before compulsory arbitration can be sought and ensure that the views of all parties about whether they are being harmed are to be taken into account
  • there will be no general power for Fair Work Australia to settle disputes through arbitration, except where all parties agree.
 
‘Both sides can’t be right’
 
Obviously both parties can’t be right regarding arbitration. The new laws can’t both arbitrate an intractable dispute such as Telstra AND not force employers to sign agreements they are unhappy with.
 
The key to answering this question will be how Fair Work Australia commissioners interpret the thresholds for recalcitrant employers and damaging disputes.
 
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