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Concerns raised over preservation of long ser -

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Concerns raised over preservation of long service leave

Reporter: Heather Ewart

KERRY O'BRIEN: The ongoing row over what will or won't be contained in the Federal Government's
industrial relations changes took a new twist today with unions and the Victorian Government
claiming long service leave was at risk for many thousands of workers. Last week, the lunch hour
and penalty payments for public holidays were in the public spotlight. Today, the Prime Minister
moved to try and hose down fears about long service entitlements, saying they would be preserved,
though he could not specify how. But the Federal Government is increasingly on the back foot with
the States and unions picking off one issue after another in the IR debate, as the Federal
Government struggled to get its new legislation drafted by October, as promised. The Victorian
Government says it would legislate to protect its own public sector employees, like nurses, from
losing any long-service entitlements. And when State and territories industrial relations ministers
meet in Melbourne this Friday, they are likely to declare a united move to challenge the federal
legislation - when it comes - in the High Court. Heather Ewart reports.

STEVE BRACKS, VICTORIAN PREMIER: There's no protections, there's no right to long service leave.

TERRY MAHER, CFMEU: Coal miners work long and hard and have had that entitlement since 1949.

STEVE BRACKS: You know, I think people will be pretty angry if they're on nine-to-fivers and this
legislation comes in and the employer says, "Well, sorry, the law has changed I don't require it."

TONY MAHER: We will fight every inch of the way to ensure we lose not one dollar.

LISA FITZPATRICK AUSTRALIAN NURSING FEDERATION: A lot of nurses have been ringing out lines asking
us what, for example, they should do. Their long service leave entitlement has fallen.

HEATHER EWART: It's on again. Last week the future of the lunch hour and extra pay for working on
public holidays with a focus of a concerted campaign to try to force concessions from the Federal
Government on industrial relations. This week, it's long service leave. With the Victorian Premier
leading the charge.

STEVE BRACKS: I'm here to announce with the industrial relations minister that we will do
everything we can by whatever means we can as a government to protect the existing award
entitlements for the 240,000 workers in Victoria.

HEATHER EWART: The Victorian Government plans to legislate to enshrine the entitlements of its
240,000 public sector employees, like nurses, who fear their generous long service leave provisions
are about to be halved by The Federal Government. Their union claims many are rushing to take a
crude long service leave right away, in case they lose it all together.

LISA FITZPATRICK: We can't, of course, afford to have every nurse with 10, 15 years' experience
applying for long service leave in the State. So it has created a lot of chaos and a lot of worry
amongst nurses who've been in the system working continuously for 15, 20 and 25 years.

HEATHER EWART: Since the 1950s Victorian nurses have traded off pay increases for improved long
service leave entitlements. They get 26 weeks for 15 years of service. But under the five new
minimum employment conditions foreshadowed by the Federal Government, long service is not included.

has announced is that long service leave will drop out of the award safety net. So that if you are
currently covered by Federal award that gives you long service leave rights, those rights will

HEATHER EWART: For nurses long service leave is considered the reward for a tough job and the union
argues many of its members are now wondering if their work is valued. Like this midwife who's
nursed for 22 years and says the conversation among her colleagues amounts to this:

CATIE BORTOLOT, MIDWIFE: Is nursing worth it? Because of our pay and our conditions, it's - there's
a hell of a lot of time invested in study and yourself as a person and thinking, "Have I made the
right decision?"

HEATHER EWART: Little wonder that the Victorian Government chose Nursing Federation headquarters
this morning to up the ante in its battle with the Federal Government over industrial relations
changes. Stressing that while it could protect nurses in public hospitals, there were no guarantees
for thousands of others in private hospitals and aged care homes.

STEVE BRACKS: Today with nurses, for example, if you could imagine a private nursing home, do you
think an employer is going to say, "Yes, we'll put it in even if it is not required"? This is up
for grabs now.

HEATHER EWART: So today, the Prime Minister found himself once again having to deal with another
bushfire in this debate. While the Government's legislation is still being drafted, all he could do
was offer these general assurances on Melbourne ABC radio.

ANNOUNCER: Long service leave not on the hit-list?

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Long service leave will be preserved. Absolutely preserved.

ANNOUNCER: A lot of rumours floating around. We can't wait to see the detail.

JOHN HOWARD: I am sure you are, and when the detail comes people will realise what a scare campaign
has been conducted.

PROFESSOR ANDREW STEWART: It certainly seems that the Government hadn't thought through the issue
of what to do about long service leave or either that and they have thought it through and are
staying quiet about it.

HEATHER EWART: The Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, was unable to shed any light on
the matter either. His office said he was unavailable for an interview because of other
commitments, but he backed the Prime Minister's comments. The problem for the Government is these
issues just keep on cropping up one after another as part of a deliberate strategy by State
governments and the unions. Take the long service leave issue - it's not just confined to Victorian
nurses. With the union movement also targeting the coal industry in NSW and Queensland, claiming
25,000 coal workers risk losing their superior long service leave provisions and that a $300
million industry long service leave fund is in jeopardy, too.

TONY MAHER: The average miner with 20 years service has about $65,000 in that fund and if it guess
back on the award we fall back into the state legislation which is half the entitlement.

HEATHER EWART: This miner has worked at the same coal mine in Gunnedah in NSW for the last 28
years. On this day he's come to Sydney to discuss his worries at young headquarters.

ROSS WHITAKER, MINER: I would suggest that anyone who thinks we get more than we are entitled to,
they ought to go underground and have a look around and that will certainly change their views.

HEATHER EWART: Ross Whitaker has accrued long service leave and has never taken any of it.

ROSS WHITAKER: Run of the reasons I've accumulated so much over the years is I've used it as a de
facto health insurance for myself, that if ever I get hurt or I need the money there it is there.

HEATHER EWART: These are emotive arguments that resonate with other workers. And frustrated
employer groups, again with the absence of any detailed government legislation to promote, can only
insist the coal industry will maintain the status quo.

STEVE KNOTT, AUSTRALIAN MINES AND METALS ASSOCIATION: The overwhelming majority of employers do
that now and there's no appetite for a blue with coal mining unions over long service leave
entitlements in the coal industry. So that will continue to occur.

HEATHER EWART: Many employer groups are annoyed the debate has come to this, blaming the Government
for flagging its intentions for reform way too early in a May statement when the necessary
legislation was nowhere near ready.

STEVE KNOTT: In hindsight, we think the Prime Minister would have been better advised to make those
announcements a little bit later. This vacuum is being exploited left, right and centre.
Misinformation, anxiety and community concern.

PROFESSOR ANDREW STEWART: I think it is a mess. It's not clear to me that the Prime Minister and
the Minister for Workplace Relations had really appreciated just how much had to be worked through
with these reforms.

HEATHER EWART: The Government insists the target date to get its legislation into the Senate
remains late October. But many legal experts on industrial relations consider this an impossibility
because there's just too much work to be done to close off every legal loophole and avert
constitutional challenges. Already state governments are planning united action in the High Court
and this is said to be announced at a meeting of State and territory industrial relations ministers
in Melbourne this Friday.

STEVE BRACKS: We have not ruled out a High Court action against this proposed legislation. Of
course we need to see some more details, but that will be a matter, I'm sure, that will be
discussed this week.

REPORTER: The way it is heading, do you think united High Court action from the States is a
likelihood now?

STEVE BRACKS: I think there's a strong prospect of that.

HEATHER EWART: The Federal Government has been expected this. Still it has an added incentive the
take extra care with the drafting of its legislation. That could mean delays and that of course
gives more time to the critics to continue what so far has been a very successful campaign.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I should reiterate, too, that the Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Kevin
Andrews, was invited on to the program for that story, but declined.