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Transcript of press conference: Sydney: Wednesday, 1 July 2009: commencement of Fair Work [Australia]

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The Hon Julia Gillard MP

Minister for Education. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister for Social Inclusion Deputy Prime Minister

1 July, 2009  


Press Conference - 10AM Wednesday - 1 July 2009 -Sydney


ISSUES: Commencement of Fair Work

JULIA GILLARD: Well look can I just make a very brief opening statement. Can I say I’m delighted to be here at the inaugural sitting for Fair Work Australia. Today is the day that Australia’s new Fair Work laws come into operation.

This is what the Australian people voted for in the 2007 election. In 2007, the Australian people decisively said that they rejected the extreme Work Choices laws of the Liberal Party and they wanted to see fairness and decency in Australian workplaces.

Today, the Rudd Labor Government delivers on that commitment.

Our fair laws come into operation, our Fair Work Act starts today and our new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, is open for business from today.

What that will mean for Australian workers is that there will be a safety net that they can rely on that no one can strip away. There will be a fair, enterprise based bargaining system, where employees and employers and their representatives have to treat each other in good faith.

There will be an ability for good workers to complain if they are unfairly dismissed. And there will be this new industrial umpire at the heart of the system able to provide advice and assist parties, employers and employees, if they need that assistance.

This is an historic day. It’s a day on which we can celebrate the Australian value of a fair go and a day on which we can say our workplace relations system lives up to that Australian value of a fair go.

REPORTER: Julia, what’s going to happen with these State tribunal members, are they going to roll into Fair Work Australia?

JULIA GILLARD: Well we are working with our State and Territory colleagues to achieve a uniform system for the private sector. That’s to make sure that the businesses don’t face the duplication and red tape of intersecting and overlapping workplace relations systems.

We are talking to State and Territory colleagues about what that means for state-based appointments. We obviously want to make sure that there’s a seamless system and we’ll continue that dialogue to achieve that uniform system for the private sector.

REPORTER: A manufacturing union this morning is signalling it wants rises of up to 6 per cent for its workers. Is that sustainable?

JULIA GILLARD: Well you would expect that unions will make claims on behalf of their members. You would expect that employers will respond to those claims. That will happen publicly, it will be in the pages of our newspapers. It’s happening today and I expect it to happen from time to time in the future.

What matters is what happens at the enterprise level. Where representatives of employees and employers will sit down and work out the deal that is best for their enterprise.

This is a system with a decent safety net for every Australian worker and then to benefit beyond the safety net; people need to be bargaining in good faith at their workplace. It’s what happens round that bargaining table, rather than the claims and counter claims that we read in newspapers, that really matters.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

JULIA GILLARD: Well employers today can also be celebrating. They can be celebrating that this is a system that matches the will of the Australian community. That ends the era of division brought into this country by the Liberal Party in Work Choices.

Employers can also look to this system as one that is simpler; has less red tape; enables them to bargain at the enterprise level in good faith, and gives them a safety net which is simple to understand, rather then thousands of complex pages which employers have had to struggle with in the past.

This is a win-win situation. Better for employers; simpler. Better for employees; fairer. And better for both because it requires decency and respect in Australian workplaces.

REPORTER: Both businesses and unions seem to be singing the praises of Fair Work Australia today; does that seem too good to be true?

JULIA GILLARD: Well look, I would indicate as his Honour, the new President of Fair Work Australia has said, that perhaps a new body is at its greatest popularity on its first day.

Workplace relations are always going to come with differences of opinion. That's to be expected. And from time to time, I expect that there will be people who praise Fair Work Australia and people who criticise Fair Work Australia. That comes with being an independent umpire and making some tough decisions. But what it means for the system is that there is stability; there's decency and there's fairness.

This system is about employers and employees working together in their workplaces. This industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, can be there if they need a helping hand. Many employers and employees will never need that helping hand. They'll strike good, cooperative arrangements without any assistance. But if a helping hand is required, whether that's a piece of educative material; whether that's a word of assistance when it's needed; or whether it's the legal powers of Fair Work Australia, Fair Work Australia will be here to assist employers and employees.

REPORTER: How much of a 'win' is this for young people?

JULIA GILLARD: I think that this is particularly a win for young Australians. The evidence under Work Choices was overwhelming. That the people who faced the greatest rip-offs; the people who got hurt the most by the Liberal Party and Work Choices, were young workers; people in that very first job, who had an Australian Workplace Agreement thrust into their hands, which stripped away basic pay and conditions. Many young Australians bore that burden.

I think it is disgraceful that that was their first experience in the workplace, brought to them by the division of the Liberal Party through its Work Choices laws. Of course, through our Fair Work Act, we have fixed that. Young workers, every Australian worker, is going to have a safety net they can rely on and can look forward to being treated with dignity and respect in their workplaces.

REPORTER: You were at the bar table again today…how did that feel?

JULIA GILLARD: [Laughs] Well, it's a long time since I was on the tools as a lawyer. A long, long time. And I'm not anticipating a return to a legal career anytime soon.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

JULIA GILLARD: Well, what I provided to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission as it goes about its important task of simplifying and modernising awards is my Award Modernisation Request. It's been varied from time to time. It's been varied recently in relation to the restaurant and catering industry and the nature of that variation is clear.

Can I say more generally, I think the Australian Industrial Relations Commission has been doing a terrific job creating our new simple, modern awards. You've got to remember that this is a reform that has been argued for, for decades, by employers frustrated with a complex system full of red tape. It's a reform that's proved too hard for governments in the past and it is a reform which we are delivering on time, as promised at the 2007 election.

Ok, thank you very much.


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