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Wednesday, 31 March 2004
Page: 27707

Mr KING (12:13 PM) —Fewer strikes, lower inflation, higher productivity, lower interest rates, the creation of some 1.3 million jobs and increases in real wages of more than 13 per cent for ordinary Australians are, this government contends, some of the results of the workplace relations reforms over the last seven or so years. That list of matters has led to real progress in workplace relations in this country and is an important driver behind the reforms contained in the Workplace Relations Amendment (Award Simplification) Bill 2002 currently before the House. There is no doubt that overly complex and restrictive awards do hinder agreement making in individual workplaces and do act as a barrier to continued employment growth, and I believe it is now appropriate for the parliament to enact measures for further targeted simplification.

The bill before the House amends the 1996 act in order to tighten and clarify allowable award matters. Provisions which duplicate other legislative entitlements or which are more appropriately dealt with at the workplace level will be removed. In particular, the bill will clearly define and specify allowable matters. For example, redundancy pay will only relate to genuine redundancy and not to resignation. The range of matters currently referred to as `other like forms of leave' will be more closely specified, and the bill clarifies matters that are isolated from an award.

Let me deal with a couple of examples. The removal from awards of matters that are better dealt with at the workplace level through enterprise bargaining is one important target of the proposed bill. The proposed amendments will have the effect of removing from awards those matters more appropriately dealt with at the workplace level than at the industry level—such as is the focus of awards. The first of those matters is skill based career paths, as mentioned by the previous speaker, the member for Throsby. Others are: certain forms of leave; transfer of employees between locations; training and education other than for apprentices and trainees; and transfers between different types of employment. It does seem logical, if one accepts the basic reforms in the Workplace Relations Act and the focus on agreement, that those matters are better dealt with at the workplace level.

Another area of focus of the bill is the removal from awards of matters that are duplicated in state, territory and/or other federal legislation. I give the examples of notices of termination, jury service, record of hours of work, arrival and departure times of employees, and accident make-up pay. There are also some training and education provisions relating to apprentices that are dealt with in the same category. Of course, we do live in a federal system. On the other hand, we ought to focus on the appropriate delivery within the Commonwealth structure of legislative process for the purposes of finding agreement at the industrial level—at the workplace. It seems to me that if we are focused on streamlining and simplifying the industrial process and the reaching of industrial agreements then we ought to ensure that the appropriate level of government deals with things in the appropriate industrial arbitral service—in this case, for the most part, state and territory industrial commissions or arbitral tribunals.

Another area of simplification involves the removal of matters that do not form part of a safety net of minimum terms and conditions. I give the examples of public holidays not declared to be observed generally within a state; removal of bonuses, except bonuses for outworkers; limitation of the scope of what may be included as an allowance; and clarification of the commission's power to make minimum rates awards that provide for basic entitlements. Finally, a further area of simplification which I think commendable is that of matters that hinder productivity in the workplace, including provisions specifying the number or proportion of employees in a particular type of employment and direct and indirect prohibitions on employers employing employees in a particular type of employment or classification.

There are other ad hoc measures that deal with other allowable award matters such as preserving freedom of association principles in relation to dispute resolution clauses and ensuring that all exceptional matters orders are now heard by a full bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, but in effect the thrust of these provisions is to ensure that the government continues to put in place the framework for a workplace relations system that creates higher real wages and more jobs. At the end of the day, it gives freedom to those involved at the workplace—those on the part of the employers and industry and those on the part of the employees who actually do the hard work, if I can put it that way, at the coalface—who are best placed to reach agreement about the conditions of employment under which they make their own personal arrangements. That is the driving thrust behind the workplace relations legislation, introduced by this government, that has been so beneficial, and this legislation before the House is very much part of that program.

I have with me a copy of an example of an award—in this case, the Metal Industry Award—that I have printed off the Internet. It is a rather large tome. I suspect it must be nearly 1,000 pages. There are all sorts of schedules, amended schedules and provisions dating from different times and going right through. It would be wrong to say the whole thing is a dog's breakfast, but it is something that has with the accretion of time had bits rusted on here and there, and it is almost impossible for the ordinary person to read. I suspect it is almost impossible for the ordinary metalworker to read and digest. That is not conducive to good industrial relations. It certainly is not conducive to those who are on the shop floor understanding precisely what terms and conditions they are working under. So it is a good example of why we need award simplification, and it is a good example of why this House should support the legislation before it.