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Minister discusses the Government's enterprise bargaining legislation

TONY EASTLEY: Enterprise bargaining is a success in Australia, that's according to a new report launched by the Federal Industrial Relations Minister, Laurie Brereton. Speaking in Melbourne this morning, Mr Brereton said the rate of enterprise bargaining has increased, employees have been effectively protected, and employers have benefited because productivity in the workplace has gone up. But, as Edmond Roy reports, migrant workers, part-time workers, and women have yet to use enterprise bargaining to their advantage.

EDMOND ROY: It's no accident that Laurie Brereton chose to launch the enterprise bargaining annual report in Melbourne, after all, Victoria's industrial relations laws have often been the butt of Federal criticism. And the fact that nearly 300,000 Victorians switched to Federal awards in the past two years is no consolation, a point Laurie Brereton made with some relish right at the beginning.

LAURIE BRERETON: I mean, trying to find out information about industrial outcomes in Victoria under the Kennett Government system, it's like trying to find out a state secret. It is impossible to this day to know how many enterprise agreements have actually be ensigned in Victoria. No one will tell anyone. It's impossible to find out.

EDMOND ROY: Laurie Brereton could afford that kind of sentiment for, according to the enterprise bargaining annual report, the Federal Government's new industrial laws were working. The report found there was a significant growth in enterprise and workplace agreements, particularly in the Federal industrial relations system and the service industries. It also found that the legislative protections have generally promoted fairer outcomes for employees. But for all the patting on the back, there were still some lessons to be learNorthern Territory. Employers and unions needed to work to strengthen their bargaining skills to communicate more effectively with the employees and members. And employees from non-English speaking backgrounds were less likely to be better off under the new system, a point conceded by Laurie Brereton.

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, they certainly feel that they haven't been doing as well as all the other elements, and I think that's something that the trade union movement and certainly something that my department will need to develop policies to counter. I think we need to target these areas to make sure that the inadequacies revealed in the report are properly addressed, and we intend to do so, and I'll certainly be urging the ACTU for its part to do so.

EDMOND ROY: Mr Brereton dismissed reports that women were not better off under the new system. According to him, it was the difference between the Federal structure and the State structure that gave the impression that women were not better off.

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, certainly, Federal enterprise bargaining is not to blame because this report indicates that the results under Federal enterprise bargaining see a very small disparity between the outcomes for male and female workers - 0.2 of one per cent - whereas without Federal bargaining, that is in unregistered agreement-making, the difference is 1.5 per cent. So all of that blow-out, virtually all of that blow-out, is in the unregistered, that is the non-Federal, agreement-making process. That's where the weakness lies and that reinforces the importance of the Federal system, the system that is so much under threat as a result of the policies of the Federal Coalition.

EDMOND ROY: And he had a warning that, despite the good news, the Federal Government could not rest on its laurels.

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I think we can all do better here. But clearly, the best performers in these areas are agreements under the Federal system. The weakest performers are the State systems where there are not the Federal safeguards and the Federal obligations on the Commission, or unregistered agreements. Overwhelmingly, any problem with enterprise bargaining is one that stems from a lack of safeguards, when the protections of the Federal system are not available. And this, I repeat and urge you to consider, is the real risk inherent in the approach of our political opponents who would see the destruction of that safety net approach.

TONY EASTLEY: Laurie Brereton.