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Family First Senator is concerned that industrial relations changes would eradicate meal breaks and public holidays.

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Wednesday 27 July 2005

Family First Senator is concerned that industrial relations changes would eradicate meal breaks and public holidays.


TONY EASTLEY: The new Family Fi rst Senator, Steve Fielding, is concerned that paid public holidays and meal breaks are under threat from the Federal Government's planned industrial changes. 


Senator Fielding says he's discovered that the majority of Australian workers will lose their automatic right to the basic conditions. 


He says pay rates for Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day won't be guaranteed, because the Government won't include them in the small set of minimum basic conditions. 


Senator Fielding says he's concerned this move will harm family life and he's told AM 's Alexandra Kirk he'll try and raise his concerns with the Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews. 


STEVE FIELDING: Look, the Federal Government's proposed minimum standards says nothing about meal breaks and public holidays and what this means is the average Australian worker not covered by an award, which millions of Australian workers and their families will not be guaranteed they'll be paid if they take public holidays such as Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day. 


I think a lot of workers and their families will be surprised to learn that the Government intends to remove the guarantee that workers will be paid on public holidays. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what's your view? 


STEVE FIELDING: Well, my view is that, look, I think that it's pretty fair and reasonable that public holidays such as Christmas Day, Anzac Day, Good Friday are days that workers should be able to take off and be paid. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what about meal breaks? 


STEVE FIELDING: Well, meal breaks are something that's very important. Under the Government's proposal, workers on agreements or contracts may not be guaranteed meal breaks. 


Now this is… can be a safety issue. People need meal breaks to have a break from their work, especially in jobs where they need a break just to be able to concentrate again when they get back from the meal break. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Workers could, though, seek to have these things included in collective agreements or individual contracts. 


STEVE FIELDING: That is right, they could negotiate but these are, I would think by most Australian families, considered as a minimum standard to have a meal break and also to be paid by on some of those public holidays. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: You don't think that workers have the ability to negotiate them into collective agreements or individual contracts? 


STEVE FIELDING: I think that certainly if you were talking about people being able to negotiate with an employer, people, young people or people that can't read contracts that well, very hard for people to negotiate. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Will you be seeking for those, for public holidays and for meal breaks to then be included as a basic conditions under the awards? 


STEVE FIELDING: I think that these two additional items need to be added to the minimum conditions and I will be speaking with the Government on those issues. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now, you don't have the balance of power, the Government does have the majority in the Senate so what bargaining position do you come from? 


STEVE FIELDING: Look, I've said from day one that I think even though I may not have the balance of power, I think that the power of common sense is pretty strong. I think that once Australian workers and families realise that these things aren't in there, they'll be asking their local members to have them added as well. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think other Senators will share your concerns? 


STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think these two items in particular make a lot of sense and I… you know I really do believe that common sense will prevail. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well, the Government hasn't planned to put these things in the minimum conditions up until now. 


STEVE FIELDING: Look, I'm just hoping it may be an oversight and… but look I really believe that these two things should be added. 


TONY EASTLEY: Family First Senator Steve Fielding talking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra. 


A spokesman for the Minister says Mr Andrews' door is always open to Senator Fielding, to discuss the proposed changes which the Minister argues are needed to stimulate the Australian economy.