Song and fury for WA IR laws


Song and fury for WA IR laws

The Western Australian trade union movement has confirmed it will pursue a paid maternity leave test case in the wake of the introduction of legislation aimed at repealing the Court Government's 'third wave' of IR reform.


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The Western Australian trade union movement has confirmed it will pursue a paid maternity leave test case in the wake of the introduction of legislation aimed at repealing the Court Government's 'third wave' of IR reform.

Meanwhile, Premier Geoff Gallop has had a serve at the CEO of the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry for comments he made about the Labour Relations Reform Bill 2002.

IR Minister John Kobelke introduced the Bill on Tuesday night, saying not only would workers benefit, but employers would now also be able to compete on a level playing field.

The legislation repeals Court Government legislation, abolishes Western Australian Workplace Agreements and introduces employer-employee agreements, commits to collective bargaining and introduces good faith bargaining. It also restores power to the WA IRC, enhances minimum pay and conditions, restores union right of entry and abolishes laws on secret ballots and union political expenditure (see 8/2002 and 3).

For the first time in eight years, the laws mean the union movement can bring applications before the commission to set standards, and Unions WA secretary Stephanie Mayman told WorkplaceInfo today that action would be taken slowly. She said unions would be pursuing paid maternity leave of probably 14 weeks (although the full claim had not been determined), increases in casual loadings and other issues to take WA standards up to other national standards.

The movement would also await the outcome of the federal reasonable hours test case, before deciding where to take the findings in WA. She said there was a big problem in the mining industry where long hours affected not only quality of life, but occupational health and safety. One miner had told Unions WA he had worked 42 days straight underground with only 7 days off before working another 42 days straight.

Mayman had previously raised concerns with WorkplaceInfo that under the draft legislation, young workers would be able to sign individual contracts, which could mean they could be coerced into doing things (see 3). But amendments mean workers under the age of 18 will need either the consent of a parent or guardian when signing the contract, or a person outside the workplace nominated by the employee - which allows the union movement to step in.

Mayman said the introduction of the legislation on Tuesday night was an 'emotional moment', especially for all those in the gallery who had fought the first, second and third wave of industrial reform introduced by the Court Government. She said as Kobelke reached the end of his speech, a hummed version of 'Solidarity Forever' started up in the gallery, and onlookers broke into a roar of approval as he commended the Bill to Parliament.

But employers have been furious about the legislation. While Mayman said 'when you've been in the dark for eight years some people are blinded when the light comes back on', the CCI took out full-page ads in The West Australian newspaper on Tuesday, saying the Bill could well price the lower paid and unemployed out of jobs.

CEO Lyndon Rowe has said the Government's rhetoric about the laws bringing about harmony and productivity in the workplace is not matched by the detail of the Bill. He has also criticised the Government over being soft on the building union's activities in that state, and its 'no ticket no start' signs erected on building sites.

Gallop took Rowe to task at a business breakfast briefing yesterday morning telling him he had 'become addicted' to a hostile approach to workers and their organisations. He also denied that the Government was tolerant of disruption in the building industry, but said the Government would not waste taxpayers' money by following up the matter of the signs in the courts.

The Cole Royal Commission into the building and construction industry begins its WA hearings in Perth on 18 March. In related news, the federal Employment Advocate, Jonathan Hamberger, told the Senate Estimates Committee yesterday that he is picking up the cost of supplying information to the royal commission. Labor Senator Kim Carr said if Hamberger's and other departments were not billing the royal commission, this meant the cost would exceed even the blow-out figure of $60 million reported earlier in the week (see 4).

WorkplaceInfo's attempts to contact WACCI's employee relations director Bruce Williams about the Labour Relations Reform Bill were unsuccessful.


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