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Australian Industrial Relations Commission, Melbourne: address.



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THE HON TONY ABBOTT MP

MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT SERVICES

 

Speech

Australian Industrial Relations Commission, Melbourne Australian Industrial Relations Commission

Melbourne

Mr President, Deputy Presidents, Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen, the legal framework within which the Industrial Relations Commission has operated has changed considerably in the past few years but its membership has not. The first new appointments in five years, yourself excepted, Mr President, provide an opportunity to reflect on the Commission's important but changing role in our national life as well as to congratulate four fine Australians on the high and lonely challenge of public service which they have accepted.

As a very new Minister, Mr President, I am conscious of the fact that I know less about the industrial relation system than the least in this room, yet those whose job it is to administer the law are entitled to know the mind and temper of those whose job it is to propose the law. As a student, Mr President, I spent enough time among the supporters and disciples of the late great B.A. Santamaria to appreciate the key historical role of the Commission, and indeed of the trade unions for that matter in civilising capitalism and in establishing the dignity of work.

Mr President, I am enough of a traditionalist to appreciate the historical ideals of the labour movement but enough of a realist to sense that times have changed and that Australian workers and managers are typically no longer respectively gullible or grasping. Mr President, I am son enough of the Church to hear the call to cast down the proud from their seats and to exalt the lowly, but I hope enough of a contemporary Australian to know that today's battlers are just as likely to be struggling small business people as vulnerable employees. It seems to me, Mr President, that the fundamental role of the Commission is no longer, if it ever was, to act as a referee in a fight between capital and labour, but to appreciate the predicament of job providers as well as job holders whose homes and livelihoods are equally at stake, are equally on the line in every industrial dispute.

Mr President, amidst the piles of paper that await a new Minister, amidst all that is new and unfamiliar, I came across my first log of claims the other day, which I understand was recently served on a Melbourne milk bar proprietor. Mr President, this log of claims demanded that all employees receive six weeks annual leave; four weeks bereavement leave; four weeks compassionate leave; two weeks conference leave and six weeks education leave. In the 30 weeks of the year left for work it demanded that all employees receive a rostered day off each fortnight; holidays on their birthday; a day off a month to attend stop work meetings; 10 minutes break every hour and two days shopping leave, no doubt to spend the Christmas bonus of five weeks pay.

This log of claims, Mr President, was served by the Shop Assistants Union, which is of course traditionally one of the more responsible unions in our system. Last week, Mr President, I was sent the current Metal Workers Union log of claims which had recently been served on a small workshop in Adelaide. This demanded for all employees 10 weeks annual leave; 12 weeks compassionate leave and 12 weeks special leave. On top of $600 a week minimum pay it demanded that all employees received $1000 a week all purpose allowance; $200 a week industry allowance; $200 a week site allowance; $200 a week training allowance; $1000 a week additional allowance. That is a minimum wage of $3200 a week for an 18

week working year.

Mr President, my distinguished departmental advisers informed me that claims of this type had once been extravagant until the High Court ruled out fanciful claims. Now, it seems to me, Mr President, that this kind of behaviour brings the system into disrepute and it is the job of officialdom generally to massage away this kind of perversity. I wonder if I could quote, Mr President, a statement made in 1991:The result of wages being totally controlled by people workers do not know, by people who have never visited their work place, and through a process which workers do not understand or have direct input into, has reduced workers capacity, willingness and confidence to use their creativity and to put forward innovative ideas.

Now, Mr President, the author of those words, Bill Kelty, was no friend of coalition governments and in his wilder moments he certainly said unfair and unkind things about the Commission itself, but I think in this statement he fairly summarised mainstream industrial thinking. Since 1993, let alone since 1996, Federal Governments have been working towards an industrial relations model which places the primary emphasis on bargaining at the work place level within a framework of minimum standards provided by arbitral Tribunals.

Under this model compulsorily arbitrated awards and wage increases are there only as a safety net. A safety net which is not intended to prescribe actual conditions of work but only to catch those unable to make workplace agreements with employers. Mr President, I fully understand that your Commission's duty is to apply what is law rather than what is merely government policy. In this high task the Commission can expect support from the government and the Community, including where necessary the appointment of new senior members to ensure that justice delayed never becomes justice denied.

The four new Members, Senior Members that we welcome today, are Senior Deputy Presidents Brian Lacy, Matthew O'Callaghan, Robert Cartwright and Les Kaufman, will reinforce the Commission's traditional expertise in industrial relations and add new strengths to its organisation management, and on behalf of the whole nation, I thank each one of them for accepting this call to serve our country.

END

 

For further information contact:

Simone Holzapfel 0417 656 668

9/02/01