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Democrats ensure unions maintain vital role in workplace relations

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Senator Andrew Murray Australian Democrats Industrial Relations Spokesperson

28 October, 1996 MEDIA RELEASE 96/706


The Australian Democrats have won nine key changes to the Government's Workplace Relations Bill which guarantees a stronger platform for responsible trade unionism.

Democrats' Industrial Relations spokesman Senator Andrew Murray said key changes which the Government has agreed to make to the Bill would ensure the right of workers to be represented by unions.

Senator Murray flew to Melbourne this morning to brief both trade union and business leaders on the outcome of extensive discussions between the Democrats and the Government.

Senator Murray said the outcome, which includes agreement to support a total of 171 amendments, was a better and fairer Bill.

"I'd like to acknowledge the strong co-operative role at the leadership level of the ACTU throughout the negotiations on this Bill." Senator Murray said. .

"We have benefited enormously from their professional and independent analysis of various issues throughout the period of negotiations with the Government.

"We also acknowledge a similar role played by the ACCI, on behalf of the business community." .

Senator Murray said that as a result of the Democrats' discussions, the Federal Government had agreed that unions will still be able to pursue federal awards and escape sub-standard state systems, as long as the Industrial Relations Commission says to do so is not contrary to the public interest. "

Other changes which will assist responsible unions carrying out their role include:

* Where unions are not direct parties to Australian Workplace Agreements or Certified Agreements (and they can be), if a worker or group of workers want to be represented by a union, the employer must deal with the union. In that case the union also has the right to be heard in the Industrial Relations Commission or before the Employment Advocate on the worker's behalf.

* The ability of unions to apply for award coverage has also been enhanced, as has the ease of applying for arbitration outside of allowable award matters.

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Senator Andrew Murray Australian Democrats Industrial Relations Spokesperson

28 October, 1996 PAGE -2-

* The requirement for a written invitation from a member before a union can investigate an alleged breach of conditions at a workplace has been dropped. Unions can investigate breaches at any workplace where they have members without an invitation (with AIRC supervision), but they cannot hinder or obstruct employees or employers.

* Unions will not have the right to intervene on matters or workplaces where they have no members, but unions will have the right to recruit in any workplace over which they properly have coverage.

* Disputes concerning union coverage of particular workers or workplaces will be solved by the AIRC, with the Commission determining which union workers "can more conveniently belong to and be more effectively represented by". This avoids "open slather" on recruitment, but ensures unions failing to do their job are not immune from losing coverage.

* The retention of paid rates awards - of particular benefit to women workers - and the ability for workers in states such as Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia to continue to be able to seek and gain federal award coverage.

* New enterprise unions will be allowed to form as long as they deal with one employer or operational part of an employer, they have at least 50 members, the union is supported by the majority of employees, it is viable and capable of performing its function, and the association is free from control or improper influence from the employer.

* Changes to the Objectives of the Act ensuring that organisations are able to operate effectively and that the law gives effect to our international obligations in relation to labour standards.

Senator Murray said these changes would ensure that unions retain a vital place in the industrial relations system.

For comment, contact: Senator Andrew Murray (06) 277 3709.

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