Carr Govt says no subterfuge in PS bill

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Carr Govt says no subterfuge in PS bill

The Carr Government has denied claims by the union representing the State’s public sector workers that plans to redraft the employment act covering those workers will be a Howard Government-type move that will deregulate employment and cut back on workers’ entitlements.

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The Carr Government has denied claims by the union representing the State’s public sector workers that plans to redraft the employment act covering those workers will be a Howard Government-type move that will deregulate employment and cut back on workers’ entitlements.

A spokesperson for the Government told WorkplaceInfo that far from union claims that the Government was ramming through another Bill regardless of consultation, and ‘could have another WorkCover on its hands’ (see 133/2001), the Labor Council had actually asked the Government to proceed with the draft.

Background

When the Government signed a new enterprise agreement with unions 18 months ago, promising a 16% pay rise over four years, part of the agreement contained a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and unions over what was to be achieved.

Reviewing the legislative and employment framework was a key priority under that agenda. The spokesperson said this was because there are only two ways to be employed in the public sector – as a permanent, or as a ‘section 38’ employee, for periods of up to four months only. Thus, if a worker was to be employed under a two-year grant, they would be employed for four months, terminated, and re-employed. That situation, the spokesperson said, was an administrative hurdle, was inefficient, and had also raised questions in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

By simplifying the framework, the aim was to reflect ‘contemporary standards’ and remove impediments to public sector agencies flexibly delivering on government priorities.

A letter written by the Labor Council last December said unions ‘believe the best way to proceed is for [Premiers’] Department to come forward with a draft bill which would encapsulate the changes being proposed, following which negotiations could begin. The points the unions wanted to emphasise included:

  • The legislation must continue to be comprehensive in nature and not become merely a set of principles like the legislation covering employees in the Australian Public Service;
  • Where the Public Employment Office is presently the employer of a public servant that position should remain;
  • The concept of an employee being appointed to a position should also remain;
  • With regard to employment categories, ‘we believe that permanency should be paramount’ and that the legislation should be framed and operate in a manner that maximises the number of permanent positions in the public sector.

The Government spokesperson said any claims of the Government attempting to ‘ram through’ legislation were thus ‘just not true’, as the Government was only operating in accord with the agreed process.

While he could not comment on a timeline or details of the Bill, he said it was also not true that Cabinet was considering the proposal within the next week or two. The aim of the drafting of the Bill was merely to give a working document – which would have no status – around which negotiations could begin.

‘When you haven’t got a document in front of you, you’re just boxing at shadows,’ he said. The spokesperson also denied rumours that the Bill would be used to increase the senior executive service, saying the Government had stuck by its commitment of reducing the SES by a third.

WorkplaceInfo was unable to contact the President of the Public Service Association, Maurie O’Sullivan, today. But he was quoted in the latest issue of Workers’ Online, the union online newspaper, as saying it was ‘extremely regrettable’ that the NSW Government – as the nation’s largest employer – ‘should be moving towards a Howard/Reith model of public employment on the advice of senior bureaucrats’.

‘Ironically, NSW will have a highly centralised industrial relations system and a deregulated public employment framework,’ he said.

The article says the union found out at a consultative forum last week that Cabinet approval was expected for a new draft Bill within two weeks. The Government first circulated its plans in a discussion paper a year ago. While the union rejected that paper, the article quotes the Premier as saying the Bill does not deviate much from the contents of that paper.

Union concerns outlined included:

  • Increasing the capacity for non-permanent employment by spreading casual and fixed-term contracts;
  • Providing a framework to ‘push’ public servants onto individual contracts under a future Coalition Government.

O’Sullivan was quoted as saying parallels could be drawn between the section 38 terminations and re-employment ‘and the notorious corporate employers who at the point of insolvency are discovered to have squandered their employee entitlements away’.

He recommended the Carr Government explore a scheme to ‘catch’ non-permanent workers, either via Manusafe (see 42/2001) or the Long Service Leave scheme that applies in the NSW building industry.

 

 

 
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