WorkChoices inquiry finds workers not being heard


WorkChoices inquiry finds workers not being heard

WorkChoices has made workers 'extremely apprehensive' about job security which has led many employees to refrain from raising critical issues like OHS, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission inquiry into the legislation has found.


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WorkChoices has made workers 'extremely apprehensive' about job security which has led many employees to refrain from raising critical issues like OHS, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission inquiry into the legislation has found.

Released yesterday, the Inquiry's final report says that although the full impact of WorkChoices may not be realised for some time, the most severe impact of WorkChoices will be felt by less-skilled and vulnerable workers.

The Inquiry found many employees are not raising normal industrial relations issues, such as OHS, and questionable terms and conditions of employment with their employers, for fear of jeopardising their jobs. The report also says there is a lack of appropriate means for employees to report and have considered their concerns in relation to workplace issues, particularly OHS and 457 visas.

The Qld inquiry echoes the findings of the NSW WorkChoices 'damning' report into the impact of the legislation, finding it will lead to a reduction in workplace safety and the profusion of low-pay, poor quality work.

The inquiry urged the Queensland Government to set up a body to promote fair IR practices and monitor the effects of the legislation. Evidence presented had highlighted the use of AWAs to drive down wages and conditions.

The report pointed to the dropping of the no disadvantage test - stating that this provided the opportunity to cut wages and conditions.

Future OHS impact

The report says it has 'grave concerns' for reducing the monitoring of workplace health and safety through restrictions placed upon employee representatives' rights of entry into work sites and removing health and safety training provisions from industrial instruments governing the employment of workers.

Other uncertainties

Other uncertainty experienced by employees include:

  • creating an environment of economic uncertainty for employees and their families because of the removal of unfair dismissal laws and the decrease in wages and conditions of employment through AWAs
  • financial difficulty meeting rental and mortgage payments with no recourse to unfair dismissal legislation
  • a reduction in living standards for many employees
  • the inability to undertake future financial planning
  • a loss of a meaningful work and family life balance
  • the potential for this type of environment to seriously impact upon employees and their families through uncertainty around rates of pay, hours of work, days required to work, shift work, penalty rates and previously held award conditions, and
  • placing vulnerable employees in the precarious position of having to 'take it or leave it' with regard to conditions of employment under AWAs and other types of workplace agreements

Lower conditions

The Inquiry says evidence highlighted a trend towards lower wages and conditions of employment through the use of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

It says in the AWAs reviewed the only outcomes evident are lower wages and conditions for employees — 'there has been no evidence whatsoever of reciprocal productivity and flexibility gains for employees and employers to justify such one-sided outcomes'.

Young workers

The Inquiry specifically highlights its concern for young workers either in or entering into the workforce.

It says WorkChoices can place these young workers in the position of having to independently bargain with their employers for their rates of pay and conditions of employment, noting the bargaining position between the parties will generally be 'unequal'.

' ... the absence of adequate knowledge on the part of young workers as to what constitutes fair and reasonable workplace conditions of employment may see this group being amongst the most disadvantaged workers as a consequence of the WorkChoices legislation,' the report says.

New statutory body

As a result of the inquiry's findings, it 'strongly' recommends the establishment of a separate statutory body (similar to the Victorian Workplace Rights Advocate) to monitor the impact of WorkChoices and also to assist employees and employers in understanding their fundamental industrial relations rights and obligations.

The new body would regularly monitor health and safety considerations in the workplace, and the impact of any changes since the commencement of WorkChoices and other related regimes, on the health and safety of workers.

The Inquiry recommends the statutory body:

  • provide advice and information to the public regarding the promotion of fair industrial relations practices
  • be required to raise and contribute to public awareness of fair, reasonable and appropriate workplace practices
  • provide a 'one stop shop' for the gathering, recording, referral and dissemination of information concerning unfair, unreasonable and inappropriate work practices
  • provide a 'networking' facility for the sharing and referral of matters to appropriate bodies
  • provide a mechanism for referring the complaints of individuals to a range of appropriate organisations, for example, Unions, the ADCQ and QWWS
  • make representations on general issues relating to workplace matters to other relevant bodies, for example, the QIRC and/or the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC)
  • be not empowered to, and would not, directly represent individual employees in proceedings/negotiations about their employment terms and conditions, and ought not be empowered to advise employees to sign or not to sign workplace agreements
  • refer matters to appropriate enforcement agencies
  • engage in research relating to industrial relations matters, and disseminate that research to relevant bodies
  • monitor and collect information about workers under subclass 457 visas, and those who are adversely affected by programs such as Welfare to Work, and refer such issues to appropriate bodies
  • liaise with like statutory bodies in other States, and other relevant organisations, for the purpose of sharing information and where possible, resources
  • conduct a public information campaign which informs and educates employees and employers as to their rights under appropriate legislation and in the workplace
  • regularly monitor the employment conditions of those vulnerable groups of workers identified in this report
  • regularly report to the relevant Government Minister upon all of these issues

Troublemakers sacked

Employment and Industrial Relations Minister John Mickel said the ombudsman-style Queensland Workplace Rights Advocate would help employees and employers navigate the harsh WorkChoices industrial laws and investigate claims of rip offs.

'The Workplace Rights Advocate position is needed because the inquiry found numerous cases of workers being ripped off and being sacked without reason,' Mickel said. 'Disturbingly, evidence to the Commission showed employees were increasingly reticent to discuss important issues such as safety and pay and conditions for fear of being branded a troublemaker and sacked on the spot.

'An advocate working for employees and their families is needed because all the cards are stacked in the favour of employers at the moment.'

Mickel said scrapping unfair dismissal and union right of entry laws and pushing unfair AWAs on to unsuspecting workers had scared employees into signing agreements which targeted existing entitlements and conditions such as overtime, penalty rates, and public holiday pay.


NSW Government inquiry condemns WorkChoices



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