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Minister Andrews talks about WorkChoices (2)

WorkChoices - A New system

Kevin Andrews outlined a number 'roadblocks' in the current IR system:

  • the paternalistic influence of the AIRC and other third parties;
  • difficulties with bargaining and industrial action that resulted in significant economic loss;
  • the time and red tape involved in agreement making;
  • the absence of a genuine award safety net;
  • the inflexibility of the award system; and
  • a confusing and complex web of competing Federal and State employment regulation.

According to the Minister, "WorkChoices will remove these problems by introducing changes including:

  • more rational arrangements for setting minimum wages and conditions;
  • a more streamlined process for the making of workplace agreements;
  • greater award simplification and a more focused role for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission;
  • better balance in unfair dismissal laws which have held back job growth in Australia; and
  • introduction of a single national industrial relations system."

Key Components

Kevin Andrews said that: "WorkChoices features a new body called the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) to set and adjust minimum and classification based wages. Under WorkChoices key minimum conditions of employment will be set in legislation and, with the decisions of the AFPC, will form the new Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard. All new agreements must meet this new standard.

"These key minimum conditions are annual leave, personal/carer's leave, parental leave and maximum ordinary hours of work.

"To encourage agreement making, all agreements will be lodged with the Office of Employment Advocate, overcoming the previous complex and sometimes adversarial agreement certification and approval process."

One Workplace Relations System

The Minister argued that WorkChoices would reduce the complexity of awards and simplify Australia's industrial relations. "... it is in Australia's national interest to move towards a single national workplace relations system. Currently, we have six separate workplace relations systems in Australia - one in each state, except Victoria, and a federal system.

"Australia has a workforce of around 10 million, and with thousands of different state and federal awards and pieces of legislation, six similar but not identical workplace relations systems creates costs and complexity for all businesses."

Kevin Andrews said that the new system will cover around 85% of employees across Australia

Unfair Dismissal

The Minister went on to say that WorkChoices will lessen the burden of unfair dismissal provisions on Australian businesses, exempting organizations with up to and including 100 employees from the federal unfair dismissal laws.

He said: "For businesses with more than 100 employees, an employee must have been employed for six months before they can pursue an unfair dismissal claim. In addition, where the employment has been terminated because the employer genuinely no longer requires the job to be done, that is, where the employee's employment has been terminated because of operational requirements the AIRC will be able to refuse any application for unfair dismissal."

"Having a better balance in the unfair dismissal laws will free small and medium sized business in the WorkChoices system from the fear that a stressful unfair dismissal claim may eventuate whenever they try to resolve workplace issues with their staff. Removing this fear is vital in achieving a better and more productive working environment."

Industrial Action

"Finally, said Kevin Andrews, "WorkChoices will continue to protect the right to lawful industrial action when negotiating a new collective agreement but will improve the remedies for unprotected industrial action.

"With rights come responsibilities. Where there is unprotected industrial action removes impediments to accessing common law tort remedies in relation to unprotected industrial action.

"A secret ballot will be required before protected industrial action can be taken. This will improve the quality of workplace relations in Australia by ensuring that those employees involved genuinely make the decision to take industrial action.

"An application to suspend a bargaining period will also be able to be made by third parties affected, or likely to be affected by the industrial action - whether directly or indirectly."

He explained that industrial action could not be taken until after the nominal expiry date of a certified agreement.


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