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Brereton applauds AIRC's Weipa decision

The Federal Government today applauded the decision by the Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) on the Weipa dispute which found that CRA Ltd subsidiary, Comalco, had discriminated against its award employees.

The Minister for Industrial Relations, Laurie Brereton, said the decision backed up concerns expressed by the Commonwealth and the ACTU during hearings late last year that the company was discriminating in favour of workers who had signed individual contracts.

The Commission full bench stated in its summary of conclusions:

20. We have decided that the evidence supports a conclusion that the policy of the Company was to treat award employees less favourably than those under staff contracts.

29. The Company's policy has discriminated, and continues to discriminate against individual award employees in terms of their remuneration and conditions of employment when compared to staff contract employees in circumstances where the award employee has at least the same level of performance. This individual discrimination exists, not because the award employee might be performing his or her work in a less efficient manner or not working to the same flexible working arrangements, but solely on the basis that he/she has chosen to remain a member of a union to be represented by that union in negotiating with the Company.

"No thinking Australian could now doubt the absolute necessity of the AIRC continuing its role as the independent umpire of industrial relations in Australia," Mr Brereton said.

"This is the AIRC that John Howard said he wanted to 'stab in the stomach'.

"And who, in the latest version of the Coalition's industrial relations policy, would be legislatively prevented from applying the no disadvantage test to workplace agreements in Australia.

"Without the authority and powers of the AIRC a dispute like Weipa, with its related waterfront and coal strikes, could have gone on for weeks, or even months."

Mr Brereton said the principles at stake in the Weipa dispute were the primacy of collective bargaining and the protection of workers from discrimination by an employer offering individual contracts.

"This result is a resounding vote of confidence in our system of dispute resolution under the AIRC and a great vote of confidence in collective bargaining," Mr Brereton said.

"The Coalition's policy is a recipe for CRA-type disputes the length and breadth of Australia with little means of resolution."

Media contact:

Kate Hannon, 06 277 7320