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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 81

Senator SIEWERT (5:36 PM) —As I was saying, what incentive is there to bargain when an employer can ignore provisions requiring genuine advice and consultation in making, varying and ending agreements? The Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 will not encourage employers and employees to bargain to boost workplace productivity or to help balance work and family commitments; in fact, it will undermine such bargaining.

This legislation conveys unprecedented executive powers to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to make determinations, to intervene in workplace agreements and disputes and to alter the act through regulation. This level of executive power is incompatible with the proclaimed spirit of the legislation of encouraging flexible bargaining and may act as a disincentive to employers and employees entering into discussions that may be limited or overridden by the minister.

A number of items are left to the minister’s discretion—in fact, there are 196 references to the regulations. The minister can amend or veto outcomes of the Fair Pay Commission. The minister can unilaterally add prohibited items which restrict the ability of parties to freely negotiate workplace conditions, reducing the flexibility of both parties to come to an agreement to increase productivity and improve the work and family balance. The minister can declare particular enterprises essential services, thereby restricting bargaining periods and the possibility of industrial action and allowing the minister to force workers back to work.

In conclusion, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 will lower minimum wages and the wages of Australian workers, undermine workplace rights and conditions, deliver flexibility to employers at the cost of employees, add unnecessary levels of complexity to the regulation of industrial relations that will disadvantage smaller businesses, create additional problems for those trying to balance work and family and disadvantage those already marginalised in our society—including women, young people, Indigenous Australians, those with disabilities, the lowly paid and those in part-time or casual work. It will widen existing disparity in wages, entrench inequalities and create an underclass of working poor. It will not boost workplace productivity but will undermine it by favouring short-term, low-paid work that discourages investment in employee training.

This is badly flawed legislation with a raft of serious intended and unintended consequences that will impact on the daily lives of most Australians. This legislation is being pushed through with unnecessary haste when, in reality, there is an urgent need for more time to properly assess and evaluate its impacts. The best approach would be to abandon this bill and start again. Failing that, a number of major amendments are required to address the major flaws in the legislation and improve a range of unintended and perverse effects.

It is the considered opinion of the Australian Greens that enacting this legislation will have widespread deleterious effects on the Australian way of life and will ultimately undermine productivity and innovation and foment an undercurrent of workplace unrest. I am trying to be polite by referring to the ‘unintended consequences’ of this bill, such as the impacts on outworkers. ‘Unintended consequences’ is what we might consider the legislative equivalent of the well-known US military euphemisms ‘collateral damage’ or ‘friendly fire’. In reality, the government is putting its foot to the floor on this legislation. It is legislating with reckless abandon and it will be no surprise if working families get crushed between the wheels of this workplace juggernaut. That is your family impact statement for you.