Unprotected action laws pass Parliament

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Unprotected action laws pass Parliament

A Bill enabling the AIRC to issue interim orders to stop unprotected industrial action passed the Federal Parliament yesterday.

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A Bill enabling the AIRC to issue interim orders to stop unprotected industrial action passed the Federal Parliament yesterday.

The Government and the Democrats negotiated a deal to allow the passage of the Workplace Relations Improved Remedies for Unprotected Action Bill 2002.

Under the Democrat amended Bill, subsection 127(3) of the Workplace Relations Act allows the AIRC to issue orders that stop unprotected industrial action while final determinations are heard by the AIRC. Once an application is determined interim orders will cease to have effect. 

Democrats Workplace Relations spokesperson, Senator Andrew Murray, said in Parliament that interim orders were central to the Governments Bill; and the Workplace Relations Act already indirectly allowed for the AIRC to issue interim orders.

‘We do think it is appropriate for there to be interim orders. We do think it is appropriate for there to be no doubt that you can have interim orders. In those circumstances we support that central proposition.’However, the Democrat amendments removed time-frames and criteria the Government wanted the AIRC to follow when determining interim orders. 

Murray said the requirement that the AIRC hear applications to stop unprotected action within 48 hours or, if this was not possible, issue an unprotected action order until the AIRC could determine the application was redundant.

Based on information from the Federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations the majority of applications were already being heard expeditiously.

He conceded that some were delayed, but for good reason. ‘Our view is that those times where delays occur are probably good delays, not necessarily bad delays,’ he said.

‘They tend to be in the minority and they tend to be in circumstances where some delay is justified.

‘So, because we are very sensitive to the way in which this provision is operating and because we think it is operating effectively, as the government has acknowledged in evidence, we are not persuaded to change it to the 48-hour approach.’

Government provisions seeking to specify criteria the AIRC must consider when determining an interim order were also considered unnecessary.

‘In our view, this is one of the circumstances where we should leave it to the commission's discretion,’ Murray said.

‘There is good jurisprudence in this area, there is good case law and there is a great deal of experience.

‘It is a developing area and we again suggest to the government that, whilst the commission should obviously have regard to the many items they have outlined and to others that we believe are relevant, it should be left relatively open ended.’

Government position

The Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews said in Parliament that the best outcome would have been for the Parliament to pass the Bill unamended.

‘The Government maintains that the Bill in its original form is needed to enable the commission to grant effective, enforceable and timely relief against illegitimate and unprotected industrial action,’ he said.

‘However, to secure one modest but important reform that ends the uncertainty about interim orders, the Government will agree to the amendment which was proposed in the Senate by the Australian Democrats.’

ALP position

The Federal Shadow Workplace Relation Minister, Craig Emerson claimed that passing the Democrat amended Bill was a waste of parliamentary resources.

‘The total effect of this Bill is to slightly nudge the commission in the direction of making more interim orders,’ he said. This is hardly a sensible and efficient use of the Parliament’s time and resources.’

He said the AIRC already made interim orders under s127 and other sections of the Workplace Relations Act.

‘I assume that the government’s attraction to interim orders is based on the fact that they stop industrial action prior to the parties having the opportunity to put their full case to the commission,’ he said.

For detail on the Bill go to the Parliament of Australia website.

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