Abbott's Vic Bill 'panic politics', says ALP


Abbott's Vic Bill 'panic politics', says ALP

Victoria’s Industrial Relations Minister is vowing to push on with her Fair Employment Bill, despite the Democrats indicating early support of the federal Workplace Relations Minister’s plans to introduce a Bill tackling some issues relating to the State’s lowest-paid workers when federal parliament sits again next week.


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Victoria’s Industrial Relations Minister is vowing to push on with her Fair Employment Bill, despite the Democrats indicating early support of the federal Workplace Relations Minister’s plans to introduce a Bill tackling some issues relating to the State’s lowest-paid workers when federal parliament sits again next week.


Tony Abbott yesterday revealed he would introduce a Bill aimed at keeping Victorian workers fully within the Federal system—rather than having a State-regulated Fair Employment Tribunal as in the Gould Bill—by:

  • improving safety net entitlements, in matters like annual and sick leave, bereavement and carer’s leave, for Victorian workers not under federal awards or agreements (Schedule 1A workers), and payment for more than 38 hours work a week;
  • allowing the Victorian Government to intervene in Australian Industrial Relations Commission proceedings in wage orders and disputes;
  • increasing compliance and enforcement of workplace inspectors in relation to time and wages records; and
  • increased compliance and enforcement in wages and conditions governing textiles outworkers.

He said his Bill—which has not yet been seen by the Victorian Government or federal Opposition—would overcome the impasse the Victorian Government was facing in the Upper House and would guarantee rights for workers.

He also said at an estimated cost of $10 million and between 2,000 and 20,000 jobs, the Victorian Bill was unaffordable.

A spokesperson for Mr Abbott told WorkplaceInfo the new Bill was contained within the More Jobs Better Pay Bill 1999, which had been rejected outright by the Senate, but that Mr Abbott felt satisfied after preliminary talks with Democrats Senator Andrew Murray indicated that he would support these specific changes.

When questioned about the timing—with the Opposition saying the move was due to election panic throughout the country—the spokesperson said as a new Minister, this bill was something Mr Abbott specifically wanted to tackle.

The spokesperson also deflected criticisms that Abbott’s bill did not introduce everything the Victorian Bill would, saying ‘it doesn’t address everything because it doesn’t address union powers’. She said the Bill did address the four major Victorian Government concerns.

The spokesperson said former federal Minister Peter Reith had met with Minister Gould a couple of times last year, and that Ms Gould had not told him precisely what she’d wanted. ‘So for her to say that she’s been wronged is a little obtuse’, the spokesperson said. All the same, Mr Abbott had written about his plans to the Victorian Government yesterday and hoped for some further communication shortly.

But the move has been branded a ‘cynical political exercise’ by federal Shadow IR Minister Arch Bevis, who said if Mr Abbott was serious he would have consulted with the Victorian Government and with the community first.

‘The fact is he didn’t even bother to talk to the Victorian Government’, Bevis told WorkplaceInfo. ‘This has nothing to do with providing adequate protection for Victorian workers. If they want to be fair dinkum about this the Government should guarantee minimum standards for Victorian workers in line with workers throughout the rest of the country.’

He said the fact that all of the 20 allowable matters afforded to other workers would still not be available to many Victorian workers meant they would be the least protected workers in the country, and that the Victorian public was fully aware of the plight of those workers.

Bevis branded the move ‘panic politics’ in the wake of bad polls and poor election results in Western Australia and Queensland. He said the scheme was also a move by Mr Abbott to position himself as a ‘can-do’ Minister after the next federal election.

While Bevis said he had not had a chance to talk with Democrats Senator Andrew Murray about the Bill, Senator Murray, a proponent of a unitary industrial relations system, has welcomed it, while saying it doesn’t go far enough.

‘This bill is only the second bill introduced by the Government in five years that actually improves protections for workers in Australia and I believe the Senate should give it early consideration’, he said.

‘While I have not seen all of the detail, I would have preferred that the bill went further in areas like the prescribed rate of overtime and allowing easier access to common rule awards in Victoria.

‘However, any improvement to the current level of inadequate protection of Victorian workers on employee entitlements should be welcomed and the Democrats will certainly be considering this bill very favourably. ‘

Senator Murray said there was ‘great merit’ in promoting a single national industrial relations system, and the reference of Victoria’s industrial powers to the Commonwealth in 1997 was an important step in that.

‘I would urge the Victorian and Federal Governments to reach a consensus on a reasonable level of protections and regulations for Victorian workers that establishes adequate safeguards without unnecessary bureaucracy’, he said.

Victorian Minister Monica Gould says Mr Abbott’s plans are ‘too little, too late... For 18 months we have called on the Opposition and the Howard Government to support disadvantaged workers and put in place a fair system’.

‘And for 18 months they have denied there was a need for any change at all. In fact only yesterday Tony Abbott told ABC radio that low paid workers were perfectly happy with the minimum standards they ‘enjoy’ under the Workplace Relations Act.

‘Now, on the eve of the debate on the Bracks Government’s Fair Employment legislation, John Howard wants Victorians to believe he has suddenly developed sincere sympathy for low paid workers.

‘Victorians will treat this stunt with the contempt it deserves. And the Bracks Government will press ahead with our genuine plans for a fair deal when Parliament resumes next week.’

Gould has just finished a tour of the State designed to inform people of the changes the laws will bring, and to again seek any concerns they may have. She has already made a number of changes to her original Bill, including:

  • limiting the liability of a principal contractor to pay for remuneration of employees of subcontractors to outworkers only;
  • restricting a review of unfair contracts to owner drivers, child-care workers, cleaners and security guards; and
  • having right of entry provisions mirroring the federal Act.

These amendments were enough to persuade the Master Builders Association of Victoria and the Housing Industry Association to now support the Bill (see previous story). But the Australian Industry Group and Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the two dissenters on last year’s Taskforce into the State’s IR system, remain opposed and have lobbied the Victorian Opposition hard to block the changes in the Upper House.

The Victorian Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, Mark Birrell, urged Gould to withdraw her ‘costly and divisive’ scheme following Abbott’s Bill.

He said Abbott’s plans addressed the State’s needs, without costing the economy, and if the State Government failed to withdraw the Fair Employment Bill, it could only be because Labor’s true agenda was to help trade unions rather than outworkers or employees.

‘The only topics left in Labor’s scheme after Tony Abbott’s reforms are ones that would hurt small businesses and cost jobs’, he said.

‘So I call on Ms Gould to immediately rule out her idea to give unions the right to forcibly enter small business and photocopy their books and to drop her idea of a cumbersome State Tribunal that forces small business costs up.’

WorkplaceInfo will follow up the specifics of the Bill later today.



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