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ACTU agrees with aspirational aims -

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ASHLEY HALL: The Federal Government has downgraded its commitment to ensure both workers and
employers aren't worse off as a result of the award modernisation process.

And it's received some unexpected support for its change in stance from the union movement.

The ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence says it was always just an aspiration to keep both bosses and
workers happy and that there will be changes that disadvantage some people.

That's not to say the ACTU won't move to protect workers adversely affected when modern awards are
introduced. Mr Lawrence says he'll take legal action in the form of "take home pay orders".

He's told our chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis that the legal action is just one of
several mechanisms available to make sure workers aren't left worse off.

JEFF LAWRENCE: If those situations arise and workers and unions will be pursuing that but it is an
individual remedy so if there are such issues really the best thing is to, you know, ensure that as
part of this process those sorts of issues are minimised.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you believe that the Government has gone back on its guarantee, on its promise
not to leave workers or employers worse off as a result of this?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well look I think the truth is that this was always going to be a difficult process.
I mean there are thousands of awards that are being reduced to about 130. You know you could say
that that sort of system just wouldn't have been sustainable into the future.

I mean certainly employers have been asking for this and it was something that the Howard
government of course didn't have the guts to take on. In fact what it decided to do was introduce
AWAs to effectively destroy the award system, to undermine it. So...

LYNDAL CURTIS: So is the promise one which should have never been made because it could never have
been met?

JEFF LAWRENCE: It was an aspiration and I think that as a result of the process and you know, the
mechanisms that are there then it can be achieved but I don't think there can be any guarantees.

And I think look fundamentally it's really a question that you know the ultimate protection for
workers, and really this is our own, to make sure that people are not disadvantaged from this, the
ultimate protection is for people to be involved in a union, to exercise whatever legal avenues are
there but also ultimately if there are still issues then collective agreements of course really are
what the system promotes. And collective agreements over and above the award will protect these
things and will enhance conditions through bargaining.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Will you go on the hunt now for test cases, cases you can run to set precedence on
this issue?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Generally we are just determined to make sure that the Fair Work Act is implemented
in a way which enhances workers' rights. And there are lots of issues that arise under that.
There's still a lot of work to be done here to complete this process and you know, it's a really
important process.

And I have to say it hasn't been helped by the misleading campaign, scurrilous campaign that's been
run by a range of employer organisations, usually based on a misstatement of the facts which I
think is really just based on a view that they'd like to return to WorkChoices essentially, that
they'd like not to have awards and a safety net. And actually they don't have the guts to actually
come out and say that of course.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Are you concerned though that the Government is responding to that by giving some
industries some exceptions from this?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well the Government has responded in a couple of instances and we've made our
displeasure clear.

But the Government has also responded in some instances where there appears to be disadvantage. And
most of the issues there would've been dealt with by the commission.

You know the result of the Government's last intervention really was to set some parameters but
really to say to the commission, now you go back and finish that task. And most of the issues that
have been dealt with in most of the industries have been dealt with by the commission and by the
parties, by unions and employers through agreement.

ASHLEY HALL: The ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence speaking to Lyndal Curtis.