Unions cheer NSW IR moves, employers say they add to confusion

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Unions cheer NSW IR moves, employers say they add to confusion

Unions have unsurprisingly welcomed the NSW State Government’s move to protect 186,000 State public servants from potential control by the Federal Government’s WorkChoices laws, but employers say the move will just add to confusion.

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Unions have unsurprisingly welcomed the NSW State Government’s move to protect 186,000 State public servants from potential control by the Federal Government’s WorkChoices laws, but employers say the move will just add to confusion.

Proposed legislation

Under legislation introduced into State Parliament last night employees of State controlled corporations such as Area Health Boards and the State Transit Authority will become public servants paid directly by the Government.

As well, all consent awards in the State system will become agreements, to prevent them being deemed to be notional federal agreements under the new federal system. They will thus not be subject to the Fair Pay Conditions Standards.

And in addition, the powers of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission will be extended to allow it to rule on common law agreements between employers and workers.

Unions NSW support legislation

Unions NSW said the decision to protect public sector workers from WorkChoices will improve the quality of frontline services.

‘These legal measures are needed to prevent public sector workers being swallowed up by Canberra and the federal government’s low-wage, low-skill agenda,’ said Unions NSW secretary John Robertson.

‘The move is good news for the NSW public because it means that our frontline workers and frontline support workers will continue to be employed by a system that respects skills and experience.’

Robertson said the changes also provide mechanisms for regular pay rises and the resolution of industrial disputes.

‘We have seen that under the federal system, the umpire has lost its power to resolve dispute - turning industrial issues into wars of attrition,’ he said.

‘A system premised on a strong independent umpire and fair wages and conditions is in everyone’s best interest.'

NSW Nurses

The NSW Nurses Association said the State’s public hospital nurses are ‘thrilled’ with the State Government’s decision to protect them from the Howard Government’s attack on their rights at work.

‘This is excellent news for approximately 38,000 nurses working in the State’s public hospitals, because it removes the uncertainty about their rights at work and award conditions,’ said NSWNA General Secretary, Brett Holmes.

‘It means they don’t have to renegotiate the big gains in wages and conditions they have achieved over the years, such as shift penalty rates, fair overtime payments, paid maternity leave, extended annual leave and the right to reasonable workloads.

‘It means they will remain within the fairer NSW industrial relations system, which has helped them achieve those gains.’

Business disappointed

However a leading employer organisation said the changes will only add to the existing levels of confusion surrounding the introduction of a national workplace relations system.

‘Business is disappointed that the State Government has hurriedly introduced these additional changes to the legislation,’ said Minna Knight, ABL/State Chamber Senior Workplace Policy Advisor.

‘There’s been minimal consultation with business about the proposed changes and the legislation appears to be designed to be about a stick in the eye to the Federal Government rather than improving State competitiveness,’ she said.

‘These amendments will also widen the productivity gap between the private and public sectors. Militant unionists will be delighted with these amendments and taxpayers will find they get even less value from the NSW public sector.’

She said the changes add further complexity and cost to an antiquated system of workplace relations.

Federal Government reaction

A spokesman for Federal Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrew said it was ‘highly ironic that a State Government that has just announced it would sack 5000 employees has just added another 186,000 to the public service payroll’.

Andrews has not yet commented on what effect the NSW move will have on the coverage and effectiveness of the national IR system under WorkCover legislation which, along with the regulations, is expected to come into operation late this month.

None of the other States have yet reacted to the NSW Government move, but will come under heavy pressure from public sector unions to follow the NSW lead.

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