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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2145

Senator BELL (9.26 p.m.) —These amendments prevent award employees who earn more than $60,000 a year from making an unfair dismissal claim in the Industrial Relations Court. They are ostensibly based on the premise that award employees should be treated in the same way as non-award employees, who would be excluded by this legislation if they earn more than $60,000. While the Australian Democrats agree that award and non-award employees should be treated in the same way, we feel that regard should be had for the purpose of this legislation, which is to provide an accessible remedy to low and middle income earners.

  Award workers fall into these income brackets pretty well automatically but non-award salaries range much higher. Presumably, that is the government's reason for prescribing an upper salary limit for non-award employees. It is not usually necessary in the case of those with awards.

  As I said in the debate on the second reading, the Democrats are not convinced that these exclusions are necessary. While we believe that high income earners should not clog up the new court at the expense of those on more modest salaries, we have not been presented with any information to show that is actually happening, even though we have asked to be provided with such information.

  Even if the evidence suggests the need for a salary cut-off for non-award employees, we have been presented with no justification for the choice of $60,000 as the limit. We suggest that that is an arbitrary decision. It may be the figure is too low; then again, it may be that most non-award employees above that salary are on contracts which include termination provisions, and that makes the argument academic.

  Whatever the case, the Democrats are not interested in further limiting access to this remedy, which is the real purpose of the opposition's amendments. The government has provided us with scant justification for the restrictions it proposes and we are not about to support further restrictions.