Workplace Relations Ministers map out some changes

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Workplace Relations Ministers map out some changes

Harmonisation of OHS legislation and other developments in an employment context were at the forefront of recent discussions held by the minsters responsible for workplace relations in Australia.

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Harmonisation of OHS legislation and other developments in an employment context were at the forefront of recent discussions held by the minsters responsible for workplace relations in Australia.

The 85th meeting of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC), held in Sydney on 10 August 2011, saw the majority of Ministers endorse in principle the draft model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations and the first stage Codes of Practice.

Ministers also noted the progress of the draft Mining Regulations which will form part of the model WHS Regulations for implementation.

National Compliance and Enforcement Policy
 
In addition, Ministers endorsed the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy, developed by Safe Work Australia, noting the possible need to update the document once the list of offences that may be subject to infringement notices is settled. Under the IGA, all jurisdictions made a commitment that harmonised WHS laws would be complemented by a nationally consistent approach to compliance policy and enforcement policy. The National Compliance and Enforcement Policy gives effect to this commitment.

WRMC has previously agreed that the WHS coverage of Comcare self-insured licensees will transfer to state and territory jurisdictions after model laws have been implemented in all jurisdictions.

Consultation has occurred with licensees, state and territory WHS regulators and unions regarding the proposed transfer. Ministers agreed that the transfer date of all non-Commonwealth licensees to state and territory jurisdictions would be 1 January 2013.

Ministers further agreed to ask Safe Work Australia to prepare a scoping paper on a nationally consistent approach to the management of dust disease compensation claims for the consideration of Ministers out of session.

Workplace relations issues
 
Ministers were provided with updates on developments on a range of workplace relations issues, including the progress on implementation of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme and proposed consequential amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009; the Commonwealth’s ongoing participation in the equal remuneration test case before Fair Work Australia for social and community services workers; the development of principles to support competency-based wage progression as part of the Accelerated Australian Apprenticeships Budget initiative; and an update on the development of legislation regarding the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, which will replace the existing General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme.

Ministers also discussed the valuable services provided by Community Based Employment Advice Services (CBEAS) such as the Working Women’s Centres in South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, the Employment Law Centre in Western Australia and JobWatch in Victoria. Ministers requested the High Level Officials Group (HLOG) explore future funding arrangements. In doing so, Ministers also asked officials to canvass support for the establishment of CBEAS in those jurisdictions where they currently do not operate.

Long service leave
 
Ministers also requested that the HLOG examine the: 
  • development of a Long Service Leave National Employment Standard (LSL NES), with Ministers requesting a progress report in around 6 months and a final position on the LSL NES in around 12 months time
  • possible enhancement of legal protections for outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry, particularly for TCF contract outworkers.
Sick leave
 
Ministers noted the complex issue of the transferability of public service employees’ sick leave and other entitlements between the Commonwealth and all jurisdictions. Ministers agreed that public service commissioners across jurisdictions should be encouraged to consider and discuss the issue and provide progress reports to the Council.

ILO conventions
 
Ministers noted the recent ratification of three ILO Conventions in August 2011, these being the Part-Time Work Convention, 1994 (No. 175); the Asbestos Convention, 1982 (No. 162); and the Protocol to the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155). Members also noted advice from the Commonwealth that the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (No. 186) is on track to be ratified later this year, following passage of the Navigation Amendment Bill 2011 currently before the Australian Parliament.

Federal Minister Evans noted that ratification of these instruments represents the first ratification by Australia for more than five years and congratulated Ministers and officials for their cooperation on and commitment to ratification of ILO Conventions over recent years. Ministers noted the list of Conventions to be considered by the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments for ratification in the near future, including the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and the Labour Inspection (Agriculture) Convention, 1969 (No. 129), the Home Work Convention, 1996 (No.177) and the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No.169).

New Council
 
Ministers concluded the meeting with an acknowledgement that this was likely to be the last meeting of the WRMC. As part of the recent COAG review of Ministerial Councils, COAG determined that the WRMC was to cease as a standing Council. In its place, the Select Council on Workplace Relations would be established. The Select Council will continue the important work of WRMC in overseeing the national workplace relations system and harmonised WHS arrangements. In addition, the Select Council will provide an important forum for Ministers to discuss workplace relations and WHS issues of national and mutual interest. Membership of the Select Council will be virtually the same as WRMC, with the only change being the addition of New Zealand as a sitting member as opposed to an observer.
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