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Politicians voice concerns over IR reforms -

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Politicians voice concerns over IR reforms

Reporter: Heather Ewart

KERRY O'BRIEN: The Federal Government was busy today trying to plug another hole in the leaky dyke
of its industrial relations reform. This time it was a claim made by new Family First Senator Steve
Fielding that workers could lose their lunch breaks and payment for public holidays under the
proposed changes. Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews sought to deflect the notion as a
scare tactic, but still can't provide any real detail about the legislation he plans to introduce
in October. His cause wasn't helped by the Treasurer who persisted with the line that removing
unfair dismissal laws for businesses with less than 100 employees might one day be extended to
cover everyone. And tonight the 7.30 Report can reveal that the ACTU will mount a legal challenge
to a government advertising campaign designed to convince workers to support their changes. Heather
Ewart reports.

MAN ON STREET 1: People are entitled to a lunch break.

WOMAN ON STREET 1: We need to have a lunch break, definitely.

MAN ON STREET 2: People need half an hour for lunch break or 45 minutes, can't work straight eight
hours.

MAN ON STREET 3: It's not going to help productivity if people are hungry. How do they expect to
work?

HEATHER EWART: The government has a very big problem on its hands. The public is simply not buying
its industrial relations reforms and the latest headache comes courtesy of Family First Senator
Steve Fielding.

SENATOR STEVE FIELDING, FAMILY FIRST PARTY: The Australian workers shouldn't have to bargain for
meal breaks. They should be guaranteed meal breaks and, you know, look, these things are something
that Australian families and workers really believe they should have and they've currently got them
and why would we be taking them away?

GREG COMBET, ACTU SECRETARY: It's certainly welcome to see more and more politicians come out and
recognise that these radical industrial relations changes are going to be harmful to working
families, and they will be.

HEATHER EWART: Nothing like tabloid newspaper headlines like this to create panic in the workplace.
Senator Fielding has gone public with his concerns that under government changes basic conditions
for workers will not include lunch breaks and paid public holidays like Christmas. It's a major and
unexpected boost for the ACTU's campaign, and today senior government ministers were scrambling to
stem the damage.

KEVIN ANDREWS, EMPLOYMENT & WORKPLACE RELATIONS MINISTER: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to make it
absolutely clear that meal breaks and public holidays, which are a feature of the industrial
relations system currently, will remain a feature of the industrial relations system.

HEATHER EWART: But exactly how meal breaks and paid public holidays will remain a feature is not
exactly clear. They certainly won't be contained in the five minimum working conditions specified
by the Government, and Treasurer Peter Costello threw a spanner in the works by suggesting it could
be just a question of bargaining for them.

PETER COSTELLO, TREASURER: Meal breaks are bargained at the moment. That's my point. Meal breaks
are bargained at the moment.

RADIO PRESENTER, 3AW: What about public holidays?

PETER COSTELLO: In relation to public holidays, I think there actually is a lot of bargaining going
on at the moment in relation to public holidays, but in relation to public holidays you get
addition payment.

SENATOR STEVE FIELDING: Look, the issue here is do we really think that someone working at the
checkout of Coles or Woolworths think they can bargain with their boss about paid holidays or meal
breaks? I don't think so.

HEATHER EWART: But the government asks us to have faith that all will be well when the legislation
emerges later this year.

KEVIN ANDREWS: I can't tell you exactly in the legislation the form of it because we are re-writing
the entire act under the corporations power. I am simply saying as a matter of principle these will
be in the legislation.

HEATHER EWART: But it's not as easy as that to put out this bushfire. The Family First Senator
carries a lot of sway. After all, it only takes one government Senator to get wobbly about the
government's industrial relations changes, and Senator Fielding's vote matters big time. And today,
another sign of trouble when the new National Party Senator, Barnaby Joyce, flagged some support
for Steve Fielding.

SENATOR STEVE FIELDING: I'm conscious of the fact that it does only take one to actually change
things, but I also think it takes only one to raise an issue and all of a sudden the issue becomes
real and then people out there lobby their own local MPs on the issue as well.

HEATHER EWART: Do you feel you're in a position to lobby the governments for concessions?

SENATOR STEVE FIELDING: Look, certainly, I've been elected to represent the Australian families and
be a voice in there.

HEATHER EWART: A fact not lost on the ACTU. While Senator Fielding is keen to talk to the
government about his concerns, but as heard nothing, the ACTU leadership has been talking to him
for weeks. It's also lobbying many government backbenchers and senators. The next step in its
campaign is to encourage workers to complain to their local MPs about the changes. It claims there
are still plenty of sleepers in this debate, like what becomes of long service leave.

GREG COMBET: It's one of about another 30 or 40 or 50 sleepers, I think, in that we are determined
to bring to the community's attention and we are not misleading anyone about any of it.

HEATHER EWART: The government could well do without any more so-called 'sleepers', especially after
having to deal with the Treasurer's comments featured in the media earlier this week, suggesting
changing unfair dismissal laws so they no longer apply to any employer with less than 100 workers,
could go much further.

GREG COMBET: Thank you, Peter Costello. I think there will be other revelations come forth, too.

HEATHER EWART: On Melbourne radio today, the Treasurer was sticking to his guns with this
qualification.

PETER COSTELLO: Of course you'd look at that, but that's not the proposal at the moment.

HEATHER EWART: Whatever the proposal, the government has a fresh problem tonight. The ACTU has just
filed a statement of claim in the High Court seeking an injunction to block a $20 million
government advertising campaign on industrial relations reforms.

GREG COMBET: We haven't yet been satisfied that there is an Appropriation Bill that the parliament
has passed that allows the government to expend this money, and at the end of the day that's what
is required because this is taxpayers' money.

GREG COMBET: The ACTU's war chest will fund the legal action, which also has input from the Federal
Opposition. Tonight, the Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, branded it as a
'nonsense' and said it was just another political exercise masquerading as a legal issue. The
government advertising would continue.