WorkChoices not doing what Govt intended, says survey

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WorkChoices not doing what Govt intended, says survey

WorkChoices is not functioning as the Federal Government intended, with workers having little or no say in flexible work practices, and many falling victim to the unfair dismissal laws.

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WorkChoices is not functioning as the Federal Government intended, with workers having little or no say in flexible work practices, and many falling victim to the unfair dismissal laws.

Also the capacity to effectively bargain for many workers in minimum conditions sectors 'is in fact a myth' and WorkChoices does nothing to encourage good people management, or decent or quality work.

These are among the results of a qualitative survey of 30 Victorian workers - 24 women and six men - conducted by academics Sarah Charlesworth and Fiona Macdonald, of RMIT university. The survey was conducted on behalf of Industrial Relations Victoria - previously the Victorian Department of Industrial Relations.

Going too far

The authors said the main aim of this study, called Going Too Far, was to undertake a qualitative assessment of the impact of WorkChoices on Victorian workers in the childcare, aged care, cleaning, retail and hospitality sectors.

In-depth interviews with 30 workers from these sectors were conducted to generate qualitative information on how the WorkChoices changes are impacting on these workers, their families and their workplaces.

Victims of unfair dismissal

The interviews revealed that 12 of the workers had been victims of the unfair dismissal laws, and another four had been effectively constructively dismissed.

The authors found that the loss of unfair dismissal protection has far wider ramifications than just removing the right of people to question their dismissal and take action where they believe they have been unfairly terminated.

'The loss of unfair dismissal protection in particular not only removes employee rights to pursue reinstatement or compensation in cases of harsh, unjust and unreasonable termination, but also removes the effects of permanency for those workers who are not casual or fixed term (21 of the 30 interviewees),' the authors report.

Voices 'muted'

'This in turn works to mute the voices of workers in querying wage rates and entitlements and in speaking out about issues such as occupational health and safety.

'It affects HR practices and procedures, for example in performance management, in managing disputes between workers, in the giving of first and second warnings, and even in the provision of reasons for termination.'

The authors said the study also highlighted the ways in which, since WorkChoices, hours of work can be increased or decreased without negotiation, and rostering arrangements can be changed without notice, even for permanent workers.

No negotiation

'In a number of cases employers had introduced individual contracts with no negotiation with employees, which removed penalty rates with no compensation,' they said.

The study reports that the change the in industrial relations climate is also reflected in changes that are not strictly legal under WorkChoices, such as being dismissed for querying wages and conditions, or in unilateral rostering changes made when mutual agreement is prescribed in the award or in a collective agreement that covers the workers.

Disregard for law

'In addition, disregard for the letter of the law is reflected in the failure to pass on minimum wage increases, removing award conditions without going to the trouble of making the employee sign an AWA, and the undercutting of conditions,' the authors say. 'This disregard for industrial law is also carried over to the rights of workers under anti-discrimination law, with several interviewees reporting they were either directly discriminated against on prohibited grounds, or that their employer failed to reasonably accommodate those with family responsibilities or disabilities, as is arguably required under the law.

Attempt to negotiate

'In almost all instances the workers interviewed had attempted to negotiate or protest the changes that had taken place.

'However, the reduction of any available remedies, such as through rights to take action in the case of unfair dismissal, the severely restricted access of unions to assist with disputes involving union members, and the drastically reduced role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in resolving disputes, mean there are few practically available checks and balances.'

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