Della outlines new IR changes

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Della outlines new IR changes

With a little more than a week to go before the release of a report into the common law aspects of the NSW workers’ compensation system, Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca today outlined further changes to the state’s IR Act.

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With a little more than a week to go before the release of a report into the common law aspects of the NSW workers’ compensation system, Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca today outlined further changes to the state’s IR Act.

Speaking at a lunch at Parliament House following the NSW IR Society’s annual general meeting, he said the next priorities for the Carr Government would be supporting the federal Labor Party’s push for a national workers’ entitlements scheme, plus introducing laws protecting independent contractors and outworkers in NSW.

As former ACTU President and Prime Minister Bob Hawke began mediations with Sydney train maintenance workers at Maintrain, on strike for seven weeks over protection of entitlements, Della Bosca said the workers’ preferred Manusafe scheme (see 42/2001) was legitimate and ‘may be appropriate in some circumstances’. NSW Transport Minister Carl Scully, who has also voiced his support for the Maintrain workers, paid to have Hawke brought in as the Sydney rail system will be affected in the next few days as carriages have to be withdrawn from service.

But Della Bosca said the federal Labor Party’s plans for a national scheme funded by an additional 0.1% of payroll paid through the superannuation guarantee levy – with small businesses funded by the Government – was the preferred option.

‘It’s a small price to pay to promise security for workers, and it’s an even smaller price to guarantee industrial peace,’ he said.

Della Bosca said the scheme introduced by the Howard Government after the National Textiles closure last year, and which most state governments do not support, was ‘clearly inadequate’ in the face of recent large-scale corporate collapses.

Meanwhile, a new survey has found 70% of workers say the Government should guarantee employee entitlements in the case of a company collapse. 

 

Future legislation

Della Bosca said the Carr Government was proud that its 1996 IR Act stood as a ‘bulwark’ against ‘draconian’ federal legislation, and listed as proud achievements its moves to:

  • Grant casuals access to unpaid maternity leave (see 146/2001);
  • Award young workers the same rights to accumulate long service leave as other employees (see 31/2001);
  • Introduce carers responsibilities as a grounds for discrimination under the State’s Anti-Discrimination Act (see 36 and 3);
  • Introduce victims leave (see HR Link 72/2001);
  • Introduce consultation in the new OHS Act due to start on September 1 (see 136/2001).

But there was more to be done, he said, and the Government’s two big priorities now were:

  • The protection of contractors; and
  • The protection of clothing outworkers.
Contractors

Della Bosca said he was committed to consulting widely before reintroducing a Bill he had sitting before the Parliament, which if passed would allow for the NSW IRC to review classes of contractors and deem them as employees. He stressed that under his Bill the deeming would only occur after the IRC review, not as a matter of fact when the Bill became law. He said he believed many ‘independent contractors’ could more appropriately be described as ‘dependent contractors’ or employees.

Outworkers

The Minister referred to the findings of the 1999 NSW Pay Equity Inquiry which showed that clothing outworkers were ‘a worst practice example of the effects of precarious employment’. ‘Legislation and award-based protection rarely operate in practice, compliance is notoriously low, and enforcement is extremely difficult,’ he said.

The failure came about in part by confining regulation to the pure form of employment relationship, the Minister said, instead of addressing the layers and complexities of the outworking system. He said there was ‘a moral compulsion’ on the Government to act, and as such it planned a new strategy, which included:

  • An industry code of practice within 12 months, which must be signed by all retailers and manufacturers;
  • An Ethical Clothing Council to advise on other aspects of a mandatory industry code, including the naming of parties that did not comply;
  • Penalties to allow for outworkers to recover unpaid monies;
  • Outworkers to be deemed as employees;
  • Expanding the multi-lingual clothing unit within the Department of Industrial Relations;
  • Helping retrain and reskill clothing outworkers.

Della Bosca said he looked forward to introducing the new measures in the next session of Parliament.

Workers compensation

He finished his speech with what has undoubtedly been the most controversial move of his term of office so far – the new workers compensation legislation (see 133/2001). Della Bosca defended the move, which caused great anger among the union community; by saying the current system was failing both workers and employers.

‘For a no-fault scheme, it is plagued with disputes,’ he said. He said dispute resolution problems were ‘paralysing’ the scheme and hoped that by having disputes handled by independent arbiters, with independent doctors assessing injuries, to:

  • Reduce the risk of injury;
  • Ensure prompt payment and treatment;
  • Keep premium costs as affordable as possible.

‘It will be more objective, consistent and fairer,’ he said.

Labour hire report

After the lunch, WorkplaceInfo asked the Minister why he was still sitting on the labour hire report (see 16/2000 and 70/2000), which he has had for more than six months and promised to table in February (see 31/2001). He said he had not forgotten that promise but wanted to make sure the Government had a ‘comprehensive response’ to the report when he did finally table it. It is believed the final document was a dissenting report.

 

 


 

 

 

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