Vic bill set to pass first hurdle only

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Vic bill set to pass first hurdle only

The Victorian Government's bill aimed at handing over more powers to the Commonwealth to ensure 350,000 lower-paid workers are covered by a basic safety net looked set to pass through the Lower House at time of publication.

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2002

 

The Victorian Government's bill aimed at handing over more powers to the Commonwealth to ensure 350,000 lower-paid workers are covered by a basic safety net looked set to pass through the Lower House at time of publication.

But while the Government has the numbers with the support of Independents in the Lower House, the Opposition has signalled it will block the Federal Awards (Uniform System) Bill 2002 when it reaches the Upper House, saying it would cost jobs, and prove too rigid for small businesses.

The Uniform System Bill refers to the Commonwealth powers to allow it to legislate to have the 20 minimum federal award conditions apply to Schedule 1A workers, those not covered by awards or agreements, who currently only have five. They receive no personal and carer's leave or bereavement leave, no redundancy entitlements, no entitlement to be paid for any work they do in excess of 38 hours per week, and have lower sick leave benefits.

Failing that, it seeks to have the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal apply federal awards by common rule to Victorian workplaces (see 275/2002).

Opposition

Victorian Shadow IR Minister Andrew McIntosh signalled as parliament began sitting again this week that the current bill would go the same way as last year's Fair Employment Bill (see 57/2001). That Bill sought to establish a new Victorian system.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Abbott has supported the Victorian Opposition's call, saying it could cost 'thousands' of jobs and was unnecessary, because of legislation currently before the Federal Parliament.

The Federal Opposition has vowed to step in and introduce more changes in the next session of Parliament to that Federal legislation, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Improved Protection for Victorian Workers) Bill 2002.

That Bill, reintroduced in March after Parliament was prorogued before last year's election, allows for Schedule 1A workers to access personal and bereavement leave, and be paid for more than 38 hours' work per week (see 54/2001).

Federal Shadow IR spokesman Robert McClelland said that bill was 'miserly' and that Labor would be moving amendments that would empower the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to extend the operation of federal awards across Victoria. But Labor's amendments are also highly unlikely to be accepted by the Federal Government when the Bill is debated later this month, so Victoria's Schedule 1A workers look set to remain on the outer.

Reaction

Victorian IR Minister John Lenders said the Opposition was denying 350,000 workers basic rights, and urged the Opposition to rethink its stance.

'What [Victorian Opposition Leader] Robert Doyle is saying is that Victorian workers do not deserve even Tony Abbott's and John Howard's minimum conditions,' he said.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions also came out in support of Lenders' Bill, with secretary Greg Combet saying Prime Minister John Howard should call on Doyle to bring that state's employees under minimum Federal Government protection.

'If the Liberal Party does not support these minimum rights for so many Victorian workers, then whose pay and conditions will they try to undermine next?' he asked.

Other legislation issues

The Victorian Government also introduced today a Bill designed to mirror NSW laws and protect 140,000 clothing outworkers in that state, by defining them as employees and giving them a mechanism to recover unpaid wages.

The Outworkers Protection Bill would also establish a new body, the Ethical Clothing Trades Council of Victoria, to promote self-regulation within the industry.

Meanwhile, a Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry pre-election survey released today showed concern over unfair dismissal legislation which came in fourth of a list of priorities for Victorian employers.

The Bracks Government can go to an election any time from the end of November.

 

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