Dissenting report into new Vic IR laws

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Dissenting report into new Vic IR laws

Victoria’s current industrial laws are inadequate for more than one-fifth of the State’s employees, according to the final report of the chair of the Taskforce investigating the State’s IR system.

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Victoria’s current industrial laws are inadequate for more than one-fifth of the State’s employees, according to the final report of the chair of the Taskforce investigating the State’s IR system. The report was publicly released today.

 

But despite the Taskforce being ‘moved’ by tales from workers affected when former Premier Jeff Kennett referred state industrial powers to the Commonwealth, two of the nine members of the Taskforce have not signed off on the chapter of the report dealing with recommendations for legislative changes. These changes allow for, amongst other things, a Victorian tribunal to deal with remuneration, terms and conditions of employment, and to mediate in industrial disputes.

IR Minister Monica Gould publicly released the report this afternoon, and Professor Ron McCallum, chair of the Taskforce, said in his attached report that the most vulnerable workers were the 356,000 Victorian employees (21% of the state’s workers) who were not covered by federal awards, certified agreements or Australian Workplace Agreements.

In his report, Professor McCallum said the pivotal question addressed by the Taskforce was what was the most appropriate way to protect these most vulnerable workers, covered by bare minimum standards under Schedule 1A of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. A majority of the Taskforce recommended:

  • An Australian first - giving all employees not covered by federal industrial instruments the capacity to apply to a new Fair Employment Tribunal to seek resolution of workplace grievances;
  • Mediation powers where the parties agree the Tribunal can work with them on an industrial dispute;
  • Giving the Tribunal conciliation and ultimate arbitration in individual cases;
  • Letting the Tribunal register multi-contractor arrangements and review harsh, unfair and unconscionable contract arrangements;
  • The Tribunal to be able to initiate inquiries including, initially, a review of the way the new laws are working;
  • Defining outworkers as employees and further refining the definition of employee to include contractors;
  • Beefing up inspectors’ powers to enforce compliance, and allowing unions access to workplaces not covered under federal awards or agreements. A majority of the Taskforce also recommended a new state body separate from enforcement, to educate and advise, to be overseen by a tripartite advisory group.

 

No change on some fronts

The Taskforce also recommends that, for the time being, bargaining and unfair termination remain under federal law, although employees who are currently excluded from accessing unfair dismissal remedies under federal law should have an independent right of review of their termination.

In relation to ‘the current inadequacies’ of federal law as it applies to Schedule 1A workplaces, the Taskforce looked at the option of changes to federal regulation. But given the current ‘volatile’ IR environment, and the opposing policies of the two governments, it agreed it was unlikely Victorian recommendations would get a hearing federally.

However, it did recommend the Victorian Government establish an advisory council to monitor federal legislative changes, and advise on building a more harmonious and co-operative relationship. All major stakeholders should be involved.

Dissenting viewpoints

The Australian Industry Group and Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry representatives did not sign off on the changes.

Peter Nolan, the AiG’s director of workplace relations and one of the two dissenting Taskforce members, told WorkplaceInfo he and VECCI’s David Gregory had told the Government they would be ‘more than happy to work with them on the way ahead’.

Nolan said while the pair appeared to be dissenting on a number of issues, it was not so much the issue of the need for change they disagreed with, as a fundamental disagreement on the way that reform should be carried out.

‘We’ve supported the federal IR system for many years’, Nolan said. ‘We agreed with Jeff Kennett’s referral, and we have a fundamental view that the federal system is the way to go.'

‘We just don’t think it’s appropriate to re-establish the state system. We think these issues are capable of being dealt with by the federal Government.’

Nolan said while he understood the viewpoint of the rest of the Taskforce, on the volatile environment which would make it impossible for Victorian recommendations to be heard, he and Gregory hoped the two governments could co-operate.

But while they were in agreement on matters like the need to beef up compliance and enforcement measures, he said they rejected moves to classify outworkers and contractors as employees.

What next for the recommendations?

While the Victorian Government faces a hostile reception for legislative change in the Upper House, Nolan said it was ‘too premature’ to comment on what lay ahead for the recommendations.

Professor McCallum told WorkplaceInfo he would be commending the report to the Government as it contained ‘useful’ changes. The Taskforce’s report was handed to Minister Gould last Thursday, and a spokesperson for the Minister told WorkplaceInfo the Victorian Government was this afternoon still considering the 106 recommendations.

However last week Premier Steve Bracks signalled that mediation powers would be extremely useful in present disputes like the Victorian metal unions’ Campaign 2000.

Under the terms of the original agreement ceding powers to the Commonwealth, the Victorian Government must give six months notice of taking back control.

WorkplaceInfo tried unsuccessfully to contact VECCI and the Victorian Trades Hall Council’s secretary, Leigh Hubbard, who name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for president of the tribunal. The AIG’s Nolan told WorkplaceInfo he had ‘absolutely no comment to make’ on the speculation.

See WorkplaceInfo tomorrow for interview with Taskforce Chair, Professor Ron McCallum.

 

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