Hopes crumble as WA says ‘no’ to national IR system

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Hopes crumble as WA says ‘no’ to national IR system

Federal Labor’s hopes for a national IR system have been dashed with the announcement that Western Australia will not be referring its remaining industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth.

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Federal Labor’s hopes for a national IR system have been dashed with the announcement that Western Australia will not be referring its remaining industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth.
 
WA Commerce Minister Troy Buswell also said the state would be returning to a form of AWAs called Independent Flexible Agreements (IFAs), which would require workers to be ‘better off overall’.
 
Buswell said there would be a review of WA workplace laws as they stand and an overhaul of the large bureaucracy administering them.
 
Independent local system
 
‘We understand there is a federal reform process in train, however, there will be no relinquishment of state powers while there is a requirement among WA employers and employees for an independent local system,’ he said.
 
‘We are also very reluctant, I have to say, to abandon the state’s unincorporated small businesses to the centralist, pro-union federal system being rolled out by the Rudd Labor Government.’
 
Buswell said there was also the question of where coverage of the public sector should rest and, like most states, Western Australia would always expect to retain responsibility for that jurisdiction.
 
Victoria handed over its IR powers to Canberra in the 1990s, but no other states have yet agreed to participate in the single national IR system advocated by the Federal Government.
 
‘We in WA are not about to wash our hands of industrial relations,’ Buswell said. ‘We have constitutional rights and responsibilities to uphold.’
 
Benefits of state system
 
Buswell said the benefits of retaining a state industrial relations system included:
  • retaining the State Government’s ability to provide local information and compliance services, tailored to the needs of WA employers and employees
  • encouraging small business investment and employment in Western Australia
  • continuing to allow State Parliament to legislate a system to meet WA people’s needs.
 
IR ‘in reverse’
 
‘With federal IR policy heading in reverse under Labor, our focus will be on developing a flexible, balanced and productive system for those employers and employees remaining in the WA system,’ Buswell said. ‘Our hope is that the other States will do the same.’
 
‘Rather than rolling over to [IR Minister] Julia Gillard, our approach will be to work co-operatively with the Commonwealth to build a harmonised industrial relations system without having to hand over our long-held, constitutionally established role and powers.’
 
Buswell told the Senate Inquiry into Labor’s IR legislation that the new state system would allow IFAs to be a precondition of work, but said it would not be a return to AWAs.
 
‘Too much power to unions’
 
He criticised the Fair Work Bill for giving too much power to unions and being detrimental to workplace flexibility, employment and productivity, particularly in Western Australia’s mining sector.
 
He told the Senate hearing Labor’s legislation should be amended so that employers could offer IFAs as a condition of employment, saying WA employees would not be disadvantaged because an IFA could only be signed if the worker was ‘better off overall’.
 
Buswell said the IFAs provided flexibility to the employer and protection for the employee.
 
‘Often, the reason you have IFAs is to deliver better outcomes to employers and employees in the work place,’ he said. ‘I don’t see what the issue is.’
 
Buswell said the current individual agreements in the state system were ‘woefully inadequate’ and would be updated, with all the necessary safeguards for employees.
 
‘Provided that you meet those tests and obligations, employers should have the right to arrange in a flexible way their work places and their associated work forces,’ he said.
 
Similar to WorkChoices
 
UnionsWA secretary Dave Robinson said the new system sounded ‘very similar to what was imposed on workers under WorkChoices’.
 
‘Flexibility, we found, under WorkChoices was not about the worker,’ he said. ‘It was only about the employer being able to find flexibility.’
 
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