Unions will have to cop IR changes, says Gillard

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Unions will have to cop IR changes, says Gillard

IR Minister Julia Gillard has warned unions they will have to ‘cop’ Labor’s workplace relations legislation whether they like it or not, but has hinted that some elements of it may be in place before 1 January 2010.

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IR Minister Julia Gillard has warned unions they will have to ‘cop’ Labor’s workplace relations legislation whether they like it or not, but has hinted that some elements of it may be in place before 1 January 2010.

This may give unions some hope that, for example, the current unfair dismissal laws will be gone later this year or early in 2009.

Gillard also said employers will have to negotiate ‘in good faith’ if a majority of workers at an enterprise want a collective bargain.

In her address to the Australian Workers’ Union Industry 2020 lunch Gillard said the key to the nation’s living standards was productivity, and workplace reform was essential in getting productivity moving again.

‘In the Government’s view, we simply have to move beyond the destructive conflict-based model of workplace relations that was WorkChoices and instead build a productive new workplace relations system based on promoting consultation and cooperation at the enterprise level,’ she said.

Operational by 2010

Gillard said a substantial workplace relations reform Bill will be introduced into Parliament later this year and the new arrangements will be fully operational by 1 January 2010.

Participants at the lunch will have noted that she did not say ‘will begin on 1 January 2010’, so there is some option that elements of the new legislation will begin before then.

Unions have been anxious to have the unfair dismissal laws changed well before 2010 and have been lobbying hard for the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, or at least a reduction in its current draconian powers.

Gillard said collective agreements will only be approved by the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia, if they meet or exceed the National Employment Standards and leave the employees under the agreement 'better off overall' when compared with the modern award.

And common law contracts will also be available but only if they build on the safety net rather than undermine it.

Bargain collectively

‘Employees will be free to bargain collectively with their employer, in good faith, without excessive rules and regulations to tilt the balance in favour of one side or the other,’ she said.

‘Importantly, if the majority of employees in the enterprise determine to collectively bargain, their employer will have to sit at the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith.’

However, in previous statements Gillard has emphasised that while employers must bargain in good faith, they don’t have to agree to anything.

Anti-strike regime

Gillard also warned the trade union movement there would be little, if any, softening of the previous Government’s harsh anti-strike regime.

‘The final component of the new workplace relations system is strong compliance measures to ensure all participants comply with their obligations under the law and to ensure stability of operations at the workplace,’ she said. ‘If they don’t, they will face stiff penalties.'

‘It is in everyone’s interests that employers, unions and employees work together cooperatively and abide by the rules.’

Gillard said that when the draft of the new IR legislation was released later this year the Government will ‘meet with as many people as it takes; talk for as long as it takes; and iron out as many unintended consequences as it needs’.

But, whatever happens, the union will have to cop the outcome.

'Can’t say no'

‘It’s easy for each of us to sit back and simply say “no” to change,’ she said.
‘That won’t help us meet our challenges.
'

‘We all really have no choice but to work together on this.'

‘History is littered with examples of countries whose economies have declined because they refused to adjust to necessary change.’

 

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