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Reith legislation fundamentally unbalanced

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MEDIA RELEASE: July 2 1999


Proposed amendments to the Workplace Relations Act - introduced into Federal Parliament on Wednesday - are fundamentally unbalanced in favour of employers.

That's one of the key findings of a national group of prominent industrial lawyers who have just completed the first detailed critical analysis of the latest proposals from Minister Reith.

The 13-page critique has been signed by more than 80 barristers and solicitors in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide. The group intends to appear before the Senate Committee of Inquiry into the proposals and argue for their rejection.

The spokesperson for the group Mr Kevin Bell QC, launched the critique at a media conference in Melbourne today.

Mr Bell said; " The Australian public must realise that the Reith proposals are not merely evolutionary change but would, if implemented, attack several fundamental features of our industrial system, and most particularly its fairness and balance.'

Mr Bell gave the following examples:

• The powers of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission are to be further weakened. Guaranteed life tenure for its members is to be abolished so that, for the first time, it will not have the independence necessary to be a fa.r umpire. The Commission is liable to become a tool of government.

• The a wand system will now exist in name only as the Commission's powers to make awards will be further reduced. For example, in addition to the restrictions previously imposed by Minister Reith's government, the Commission will not have power to make awards in relation to transfer between job locat'ons, training or education, accident make up pay and'skill-based classification structures.

• Unions have again been targeted for punitive treatment. Access to work places will require written request from workers, industrial action will have to be authorised through complex secret ballot procedures and special powers are to be conferred oh the Commission and the Courts in relation to union industrial action.

• Workers will have only a very limited ability to ask the Commission to make awards where minimum conditions are prescribed by State legislation. In Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, where such legislation currently operates, the contract of employment, and not the award system, will be the primary basis upon which employment is regulated. In future award protection will be out for workers in those States

• Small businesses will also have an important existing right taken away. Independent contractors such as truck drivers will no longer be able to ask the Commission to review the fairness of their contracts.

Mr Bell said that “The proposals will ensure that unions get tied up in red tape so that they are not able effectively to represent their members. Special new forms and procedures have been introduced for notifying industrial disputes, engaging in industrial action, holding secret ballots and obtaining access to work places, to name but a few examples.

"At a time when government is trying to 'educe red tape for business, it is increasing it for workers and their unions."

Mr Bell said that the Reith proposals were undoubtedly n breach of Australia's obligations under at least two treaties of the International Labour Organisation.


"The Committee of Experts of the ILO recently recorded a formal finding that the existing Workplace Relations Act was in breach of ILO law.

"Minister Reith has responded by proposing amendments that will make the extent of the breach worse

"Australia once had a proud reputation for fairness and equity in industrial relations

"Now it ranks with those nations who do not observe their international laws."

For more information:

Victoria Kevin Bell QC W: (03) 9608 8220

H: (03)9591 9460 Mob: 0417 789 577 Weekend: (03) 5983 2483

Tony Lawrence W :(03)9601 6568

H: (03)9531 5650 Mob: 0419 369 090

Craig Dowling W: (03) 9602 6894

H: (03) 9328 3119 Mob: 0417 580 967

New South Wales David Chin W: (02) 9267 9961

H: (02) 9977 89^9 Mob: 0414 895 887

South Australia Peter Hannon W: (08) 8231 3668

H: (08) 8272 8827

Western Australia Allan Drake-Brockman W: (08) 9220 4812

H: (08) 9386 1973 Mob: 0417 949 315