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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 28

Mrs VALE (2:14 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister update the House how workers will be protected under the new Work Choices system? Is the minister aware of any contrary comments, and what is the government’s response?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Hughes for her question. This government will be protecting things in industrial relations such as the new Australian fair pay and conditions standard, which relates to ordinary times of work, annual leave, sick leave and carers leave. There will also be protections in relation to agreements, because the award system will remain as a default provision and therefore a protection for workers. This protection runs quite contrary to the shameless misinformation that we have had from the Australian Labor Party and the union movement after the past week.

Let me outline four matters on which we have had a shameless misinformation campaign from the ALP and the union movement. The first claim is that employers can force existing employees onto AWAs—to quote the member for Perth, ‘Take the AWA or take the sack.’ This is quite wrong. It will continue to be unlawful for an existing employee to be forced onto an AWA. The second claim is that employees dismissed on the grounds of operational redundancy will have no right to challenge the matter. Again, that is totally wrong. An employee has the right to dispute the employer’s operational reasons as part of the unfair dismissal process. On top of that, any claim made in this regard will be determined by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

The third claim is that workers could be jailed for discussing the terms of their AWA. Once again, that is totally wrong. There are sanctions in the act which apply to officers of the Office of the Employment Advocate divulging confidential information about employees on AWAs. That will be extended to those who are passed information, if it is done so inappropriately, by an officer of the Office of the Employment Advocate. But the reality is that ordinary workers in Australia—and, indeed, employers—are at liberty to discuss their AWA if they wish to.

The fourth misleading and wrong claim is that employers could sack their entire work force and then re-employ them the next day on inferior working conditions—something Mr Combet, the Secretary of the ACTU, was claiming. Once again, that is absolutely the wrong. Firstly, if anybody were to do that, they would have to pay to an employee anything which had accrued in terms of their redundancy and entitlements. Secondly, if they were seeking to do that and to re-employ the workers, they would have to re-employ them under the existing terms and conditions.

So, once again, the facts of the issue stand in marked contrast to the misleading claims that are being made by the ALP and the ACTU. The absurdity of these claims indicates the level of debate we are getting from the ALP and the ACTU. The Leader of the Opposition said the divorce rate in Australia would increase as a result of Work Choices. We have had claims from a Victorian Labor member of parliament that women and children would die as a result of these changes. We have even had claims that life expectancy would fall. How absurd and ridiculous!