Labor policy

One important election issue in Australia is Industrial relations (IR), and the Howard government’s “work choices”  programme. Before disscussing the new Labor industrial relations policy, It is important to understand the current system. Under workchoices, there is now a single National system of industrial Relations laws, instead of 8 State or territory ones (a sensible move, given that many bussinesses, if not operating internationally, operate Australia wide) , and the creation of a new authority called the Australian Fair Pay Commision to oversee the system, and set the minimum wage. Employees sign “Australian workplace agreements” (AWA) with their employer, which last for a period of five years, setting out the employment conditions. AWAs can be individual agreements, but collective agreements also allowed. There are 5 minimum employment conditions that all AWAs must agree to, namely a minimum wage of $13.74 per hour (generous compared to New Zealand), 4 weeks paid annual leave with 5 weeks for shift workers, 10 days personal leave, the option of up to a year of unpaid parental leave, and 38 hours per week to constitute normal hours. Companies with fewer than 101 employees are exempt from unfair dismmisal laws, and unfair dissmisal laws don’t apply to workers who have been employed for less than 6 months, or those who have been dismissed for “bona fide” operational reasons. Strikes and industrial action is allowed after secret ballots, in a narrow range of circumstances, the full details avaliable here. Significently, unions will not be allowed to strike during the life of an agreement, only when negotiating new agreements. The sources for the above information are linked.

Yesterday, Labor anounced its Industrial Relations policy, which will phase out AWAs by 2012. The minimum standards will be expanded to include public holidays (employees must have the right to these, and if required to work on one, be given an alternative day of with extra pay), paid leave for jury or other community service, a right for parents with children under 5 to get flexible woking hours (this can be refused on reasonable bussiness grounds with permission from a new “Fair Work Australia” authority, which will be a fusion of several existing groups including the Australian Fair Pay Commision, and will be given the power to hear (instead of the courts) unfair dissmissal cases. Also under the new minimum standards, employees will need to be given certain information from employers about their legal rights, and a right to redundancy pay. The protection for companies with fewer than 101 employees from unfair dissmissal rights would be removed. With the abolition of AWA’s, employers would be forced to negotiate with a collectively with employees (e.g. a trade union) if employees voted for that in a secret ballot, whereas under the existing system an employer can veto a collective agreement and refuse to negotiate with a union.

In conclusion, WorkChoices is hardly the end of workers rights as some of its opponents make out. It does guarenttee several minimum conditions in law (which should safe guard basic employment rights), but does seriously reduce the power of Unions, and makes it easy for employers to dissmiss unproductive employees. Having said that, the Labor proposal is not extremist (by keeping the 6 month probationary period, is more right wing in that aspect than Wayne Mapp’s “90 day no rights Bill”) and will not make the economy collapse. It is more softening the rougher edges of WorkChoices than overturning it.

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One Comment on “Labor policy”


  1. […] to change leaders, as it would be seen as a sign of panic. 3) WorkChoices. While this measure was hardly draconian, but the initial (pollitically stupid) absence of a no-disadvantage test (ie a rule requiring the […]


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