Kobelke releases Labor's WA IR policy


Kobelke releases Labor's WA IR policy

The West Australian Opposition is so confident its new IR policy will bring balance back to the State’s employer-employee equation that it has committed to an independent review of its reforms halfway through its term if it wins Government at the next election.


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The West Australian Opposition is so confident its new IR policy will bring balance back to the State’s employer-employee equation that it has committed to an independent review of its reforms halfway through its term if it wins Government at the next election.

The policy, released this week by the ALP’s Labour Relations spokesperson John Kobelke, keeps individual contracts as foreshadowed by WorkplaceInfo (see previous story).

But they would take a much more protected form than the present West Australian Workplace Agreements (WAWAs), and the Party also actively promotes collective bargaining by:

  • Indicating a preference for awards or collective agreements;
  • Re-establishing the WA IRC’s role as independent umpire;
  • Committing a future Labor Government to collective bargaining as an employer, in the public sector; and
  • Repealing WAWAs.

The top priority for a future Gallop Government would be repealing the ‘unwanted, unworkable and unfair’ Third Wave legislation, the Labour Relations Amendment Act 1997.

Another priority is repealing the Workplace Agreements Act 1993 and abolishing the Office of the Commissioner for Workplace Agreements.

WAWAs will go too, although there will be a transition period of at least three years. In this time, the agreements must be paying at least award minimums, measured against a no disadvantage test.

The ALP’s aim is to do away with the ‘substantially lower’ minimums and conditions set by Ministers and not an independent umpire. The annual difference between workers on the federal minimum award wage and those on WAWAs amounted to $2,641, the policy says. The Commissioner for Workplace Agreements acknowledged that at least a quarter of all workplace agreements registered in December 1998 provided for lower than award wages.

This particularly hit families, the policy says, and was about ‘a drive to the bottom’ involving ‘the creation of a pool of powerless, lower-waged workers’. Efficient, reputable and fair employers were also missing out as a consequence.

Employer-Employee Agreements (EEAs)

The policy says both the Court Government, since 1993, and the Howard Government, since 1996, have discarded the cooperative approach to IR, resulting in ‘rising levels of division, suspicion and fear’ in many workplaces.

But while it says collective bargaining and freedom of association are fundamental in a democracy, Labor says it will not be limiting choice.

‘There are circumstances where employees and employers may genuinely choose not to engage in collective bargaining processes and outcomes’, the policy says. To accommodate those circumstances, legislation would allow for individual agreements, but with enhanced protections – and higher minimum standards.

Registration will be subject to a number of standards:

  • Cannot be made if offer of employment is contingent upon accepting the EEA, ie there must be genuine choice.
  • Must pass a no-disadvantage test, based on any award or enterprise agreement that would apply.
  • Cannot be registered during the term of any enterprise agreement that applies.
  • Provides for fair dispute resolution procedures, including access to the WAIRC.
  • Maximum term of three years.
  • Registered EEAs will be on the public record.
  • Employee can apply to WAIRC for unfair dismissal remedies.
  • Either party can apply to WAIRC for redress where dispute resolution procedures haven’t been complied with.
Minimum Conditions of Employment Act 1993

The Minimum Conditions of Employment Act will be kept and improved by:

  • Removing wage-setting powers from the Minister for Labour Relations and having the WAIRC set minimum wages for non award or agreement covered workers;
  • Requiring an annual review of the minimum wage rate;
  • Seeing minimum wage rates move to parity with the general minimum award rate; and
  • Expanding the matters for which there are minimum standards.
Other IR reform

Labor will:

  • Review the Industrial Relations Act 1979, specifically looking at what is necessary to speed up the WAIRC’s conciliation, arbitration and appeal functions; the delivery of commission decisions and the transparency of its workings.
  • Abolish the Building and Construction Industry Taskforce, as recommended in a Government report two years ago. Labor says its activities have ‘heightened disputation on building sites and fostered a more confrontationist approach’.

Women had also been losers under Court Government policies, the ALP says, with the wage differential growing by nearly a quarter, to 22%, over the past decade, while the gap in other states had stayed the same. This meant women in WA earned $1089 less a year than their counterparts in other states.

Although the Court Government has set up a working party into pay equity issues, it has no power to recommend changes beyond the existing industrial arrangements.

The Labor policy promises an inquiry to make recommendations for the elimination of discrimination in the workplace. Its terms of reference will include considering:

  • The means for reducing the gender wage gap;
  • The impact of changing work patterns such as temporary and part-time contracts; and
  • The means for developing family-friendly arrangements in the workplace.

The Department of Productivity and Labour Relations would be in for a shake-up, with Labor planning to give more funds and personnel to the inspectorate division, to crack down on breaches. Its educative role would also be stepped up.

OH&S and workers’ compensation

Occupational health and safety is another priority, with an investigation planned into the effect of long shifts over extended periods, to establish industry standards.

Labor would also repeal second wave legal restrictions on union right of entry and inspection of records in workplaces.

The workers’ compensation system will also be overhauled, with businesses with good records set for lower premiums.



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