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Rudd's one stop shop not a done deal: opinion piece.



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Australian Democrats Press Releases

Senator Lyn Allison Parliamentary Leader and Democrats Senator for Victoria

Senator Andrew Murray Democrats Senator for Western Australia Australian Democrats spokesperson for Workplace Relations

Dated: 26 April 2007

Press Release Number: rbhxidxk Portfolio: Workplace Relations

More from Senator Andrew Murray on Workplace Relations

RUDD'S ONE STOP SHOP NOT A DONE DEAL - OPINION PIECE

If theres one thing thats certain its that Kevin Rudd wont win the Senate. Unless the Senate is factored in, Rudds plans for WorkChoices will go nowhere. What other parties want therefore matters greatly.

Federal Labor has taken a big step towards securing broader support by accepting that a national IR system is needed. For the last decade the Democrats have advocated one industrial relations system, not six, to provide simplicity and common rights and obligations, to reduce costs and to improve efficiency, domestic and international competitiveness, and productivity.

The WorkChoices system is neither national nor supported. The hostile takeover from the states using the constitutional corporations and external affairs powers still left state public sector employees and unincorporated for-profit and not-for profit entities, with about 25% of the workforce, under state systems.

Unlike the Coalition, Labor can negotiate a national compact with the states and territories, and create a genuine, comprehensive, unitary industrial relations system in Australia. The Democrats would support a unitary single national IR system that is negotiated between the states and federal government and that is based on fairer legislation.

Dont be fooled by the rebadging and repositioning of Labors new Fair Work commission. Labor will be keeping a national industrial relations tribunal dedicated to arbitration and mediation, as was the pre-WorkChoices AIRC. That too is a step towards consensus. That their new body would absorb the functions of the Employment Advocate and the Fair Pay Commission makes sense, and would be supported by the Democrats, provided Labor introduced an appointments on merit system for the new commissioners.

Where Labor makes a mistake is in advocating a one-stop-shop. It sounds good but is a bad principle. A quasi-judicial tribunal with powers to determine awards, approve agreements, and arbitrate cannot also be the regulator.

A National Regulator must be created, negotiated with the states and territories. Like competition law, tax law, finance law, and corporations law that each have their own national regulator - IR should too. Such a regulator should take over state departmental inspectorates and should absorb, under revised functions, the Office of Workplace Services and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

In 1996 the Democrats negotiated fair and balanced changes to the Workplace Relations Act, which

then contributed materially to our economic success, jobs growth and productivity.

In contrast, WorkChoices has resulted in a national system forced onto resistant states; the individual to be fostered over the collective; individual wage and conditions fostered over family-oriented wage and conditions; disputes going to the courts instead of the tribunals; capital and corporate interests dominating; greater ministerial intervention; and labour and unions rights and freedoms being heavily restricted.

WorkChoices undermined any notion of a genuine safety net. One of the worst changes was the abolition of the no disadvantage test applicable to Australian Workplace Agreements, which the Democrats insisted be put in when negotiating the 1996 Workplace Relations Act. We would reinstate the no-disadvantage test underpinned by the award system; make the award the default when an agreement is terminated; and prevent employers making agreements with themselves.

We would insist on an awards system that is comprehensive, up to date, simplified and useable. We would reinstate awards as the minimum safety net that operates in the absence of a collective enterprise agreement, or that underpins collective or individual agreements.

We would continue with both non-union and union enterprise collective agreements, negotiated between employer and employees, with certification by the AIRC.

Labor would not get Democrat support to scrap individual agreements. Statutory individual agreements must be available as an alternative to common law individual agreements, underpinned by the applicable award and subject to a global no-disadvantage test. Negotiations must be genuine, and there should be mechanisms to ensure that employees are not coerced.

The Democrats would insist on protection from unfair dismissal. Under WorkChoices, four million people no longer have access to protection from unfair dismissal. The Democrats would re-introduce unfair dismissal laws with low cost, non-legalistic and prompt resolution of disputes, including a process to weed out vexatious and frivolous claims.

The Democrats oppose Labors idea that some workers should be disadvantaged based on the size of the business in which they are employed. Unfair dismissal protections should apply to equally to all workers. And the research shows that exempting small business from unfair dismissal laws does not miraculously creates large numbers of new jobs.

We do accept that complex loosely drafted and costly unfair dismissal processes are highly undesirable. Most unfair dismissals were under state laws anyway, which were far too lax.

The Democrats would delete the Governments onerous and costly secret ballot provision and replace it with a secret ballot rule provision for unions.