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Unions angry over proposed NSW public sector -

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Unions angry over proposed NSW public sector workplace changes

Timothy McDonald reported this story on Wednesday, May 25, 2011 08:17:00

PETER CAVE: Legislation introduced into the New South Wales Parliament last night will change the
way that public service wages and conditions are determined.

The unions have already labelled it state WorkChoices, but the new Premier Barry O'Farrell says
it's nothing of the sort.

The unions say it will render independent umpires powerless, but the Government says it's badly
needed to ensure productivity gains within the public sector.

Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: When the Minister for Finance Greg Pearce introduced the legislation last night,
he made it clear that the bill would change the way the state's independent workplace umpire would

GREG PEARCE: I move by leave that leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to amend the
Industrial Relations Act 1996 to require the Industrial Relations Commission to give effect to
certain government policies on public sector conditions of employment and for related purposes.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The Opposition Leader John Robertson, who was instrumental in the unions'
campaign against the Howard government's workplace reforms, was quick to condemn the proposal.

But the Premier Barry O'Farrell says it's a minor change aimed at ensuring the state's finances.

BARRY O'FARRELL: This is Labor's wages policy with one exception, that payment of increases above
the 2.5 per cent in exchange for productivity savings will ensure that those productivity savings
are actually made and not as Labor has done, ignore it and stick taxpayers with a $900 million

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: The unions are concerned that with a reduced role for the Industrial Relations
Commission, the Government would have free reign, which could result in the lower wages and worse

Mark Lennon is the secretary of Unions New South Wales.

MARK LENNON: My understanding from the proposal of the Government, they would outline what their
proposals for wages policy are, they would then set that out in a regulation and the commission's
role would simply to, to determine maybe if certain productivity measures have been met by public
sector workers or whether those measures are in fact achievable.

It would be a very limited role within the very limited confines of the Government's wages policy.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Professor Andrew Stewart is a specialist in workplace law at the University of

He says reducing the independent umpire's role will stack the deck in favour of the Government, and
will also have a flow on effect when it comes to negotiations between the unions and the

But he says the Industrial Relations Commission may not be as willing to give up its power as the
Government hopes.

ANDREW STEWART: Unions, public servants generally will know when they bargain with the government
that if the government is not happy with the outcome of the negotiations and the matter then goes
to the commission for arbitration, that the government can direct the commission to make a finding
that the government's view is to prevail and that is a pretty extraordinary step to take with what
is meant to be an independent umpire.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Does it effectively turn the independent umpire into a toothless tiger?

ANDREW STEWART: Well, it will still depend on exactly how any direction to the commission is worded
and then how the commission chooses to interpret that and then whether there is a question of
whether or not it is complying with the government regulations. So we could see the highly
unedifying prospect of the Government effectively having to take the commission to court to force
it to comply with the direction that the Government thinks it's giving.

PETER CAVE: Professor Andrew Stewart from the University of Adelaide. Timothy McDonald was our