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Workchoices: moving towards a simpler, National Workplace relations system.



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Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service 09 October, 2005

Media Release

Workchoices: Moving Towards A Simpler, National Workplace Relations System

The Australian Government today announced WorkChoices, the new workplace relations system that will replace a

rigid and outdated system that was designed over 100 years ago. WorkChoices represents sensible and practical

change to ensure that Australia can continue to enjoy high levels of prosperity and productivity into the future.

WorkChoices delivers on the Australian Government’s commitment to improve productivity, create more jobs and

increase living standards for Australian families and to move towards a single national workplace relations system. A

new workplace relations system where:

z minimum and award classification wages will be protected by law;

z specified existing award conditions like penalty rates, overtime and long service leave will be protected;

z people can choose to join or not to join a union;

z flexibility and choice play a key role; and

z people can balance work and family commitments.

“Over the last ten years Australia has come a long way but more needs to be done. Whilst we have created more than

1.7 million new jobs, with a record 400,000 jobs created in the past 12 months alone, pushed unemployment to a 30

year low, and delivered real wage increases of 14.9 per cent, we can’t stand still. If we are to grow and prosper, we

need to continue working together to implement fair, practical and sensible changes to our workplaces” Mr Andrews

said.

The Australian Government’s workplace relations reforms are designed to build on and enhance the protections and

flexibilities already provided to Australian workers with family responsibilities. Achieving the right balance between

paid work and family responsibilities is a significant issue for many Australian families. Workplace agreements can

include a range of innovative and flexible practices that help employees balance their work and home lives which are

not included in one size fits all awards, such as flexible hours arrangements.

“This Government supports choice for families in determining their work and family needs and has a wide variety of

policies and programs in place to assist this choice. These workplace relations reforms will continue to ensure that

the choices provided to Australian families, through more jobs, secure income, stronger protections and increased

flexibility, will be maximised” Mr Andrews said.

Corporations power

A simpler national system based principally on the corporations power of the constitution will cover up to 85 per

cent of workers. Under the corporations power, a set of minimum terms and conditions will be in legislation for the

first time at a federal level, and agreement making and awards will become simpler.

Australian Fair Pay Commission

The Australian Fair Pay Commission will be established to set minimum wages, award classification wages,junior,

piece workers, trainee and apprentice wages and casual loadings. The Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard

will provide guaranteed legislated minimum terms and conditions for all employees on awards and new agreements.

Awards

Awards will not be abolished. Specific existing federal award conditions will be preserved for existing and new

employees. Where award conditions differ from the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard the more generous of the two

will prevail. Awards will continue to provide for a wide range of pay-related matters such as penalty rates and

overtime and shift loadings. Further simplification of awards will be undertaken by the Award Review Taskforce,

which will make recommendations to the Government on rationalising the number of awards to reduce duplication and complexity.

Agreement-making

Agreement-making will be streamlined with the introduction of a consistent, simple lodgement-only process through

the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA). Employers and employees will continue to be able to choose between

union collective agreements, non-union collective agreements, individual agreements or awards.

Office of Workplace Services

The Office of Workplace Services will enforce compliance with awards, agreements and the Workplace Relations Act

and will prosecute for penalties for breaches of the new legislation.

Transitional period

A 3-year transitional period will apply for constitutional corporations transferring from state systems, during which

time their existing awards and agreements will transfer to the federal system as transitional federal agreements. A 5-year transitional period will apply to non-constitutional corporations currently under the federal system, and their

existing awards and agreements will continue to apply.

Unlawful termination

All employees will be protected against unlawful termination for matters such as family responsibilities, pregnancy,

or absence from work during maternity or other parental leave. The unfair dismissal system will be reformed to

provide a better balance between employee protection and an employer’s ability to manage their business.

Businesses that employ up to and including 100 employees will be exempt from unfair dismissal laws.

Australian Industrial Relations Commission

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) will retain responsibilities in relation to industrial action,

awards, right of entry, unfair dismissals, conciliation of unlawful termination claims, and the regulation of registered

organisations. Unions and employer organisations will continue to be registered under the Workplace Relations Act

and improved remedies will be available from the AIRC for employers and third parties who are subject to unlawful

industrial action.

What’s changing and what isn’t

Under WorkChoices the new workplace relations system:

z Will move towards one simpler national system

z Will simplify the workplace agreement-making process

z Will establish the Australian Fair Pay Commission to protect minimum and award classification wages

z Will introduce the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard to protect workers’ wages and conditions in

the agreement-making progress z Will enshrine a set of minimum conditions in federal legislation for the first time

z Will provide modern award protection for those not covered by agreements

z Will ensure an ongoing role for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission

z Will protect against unlawful termination

z Will better balance the unfair dismissal laws

Under WorkChoices the new workplace relations system:

z Won’t cut minimum and award classification wages

z Won’t remove protection against unlawful termination

z Won’t abolish awards

z Won’t remove the right to join a union

z Won’t take away the right to lawful industrial action when negotiating an agreement

z Won’t outlaw union agreements

z Won’t abolish the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

At last count there were over 130 different pieces of industrial relations legislation, more than 4,000 different

awards and six different workplace relations systems operating across the country. WorkChoices will move Australia

towards a simpler and fairer national system of workplace relations. With six different workplace relations systems

there are simply too many rules and regulations that make it hard for many employees and employers to get together

and reach agreement. This is bad for business, it costs jobs and it’s holding Australia

back.

Unlike Kim Beazley and the ALP, the Howard Government does not believe that “the scope for productivity gains

from the old reform agenda of deregulation, privatisation and industrial relations reform is largely

exhausted.”(speech to Sustaining Prosperity Conference, 1 April 2005).

The Australian Government is determined to put the national interest first and take the difficult decisions necessary

to keep our economy strong and our nation secure, so that all Australians are able to share in the benefits of our

prosperity.

“WorkChoices is an evolutionary change based on providing more choice and flexibility for both employees and

employers in their workplaces. This Government is about finding better ways to reward effort, increase wages and

balance work and family life. WorkChoices is the next logical step in ensuring a modern workplace relations system

that will help continue the improvement in our living standards and quality of life” Mr Andrews said.