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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 3982

Senator O'BRIEN(7.40 p.m.) —I rise this evening to speak in relation to an enterprise agreement which has been recently ratified by the enterprise commissioner in the state of Tasmania. The enterprise agreement relates to a number of businesses and is known as the Margate bakery enterprise agreement. This is one of a number of agreements which have been approved under the Tasmanian industrial relations system which operate to reduce the conditions and wages of employment of future employees, not those employees who are party to the making of the agreement.

In my view, there is a questionable morality operating with this sort of agreement. It has received some debate in the consideration of the report of the Senate Economics References Committee on the workplace relations bill which will no doubt be dealt with elsewhere.

I make the point that with agreements such as this, future employees have no recourse at law in relation to the signing away of their rights to wages and conditions otherwise prescribed by awards by employees who are not so affected. However, in this case, there was a very grave question raised with regard to the fairness of the bargaining process which took place with the making of this particular enterprise agreement which applies to three baking establishments in southern Tasmania.

The agreement was drafted by a representative of the employer who was employed by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and presented to the employees. Meetings were held at which a representative of that employer organisation attended and was the only source of information for the employees as to their rights and the impact of that agreement upon them. Subsequent to that meeting and during the process of a ballot of employees which was properly conducted in other respects, a representative of the Australian Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union sought to have distributed to employees a one page document which set out some of their rights and inviting them, if they had any questions on any matters, to contact the union.

It is uncontested—and this matter has been raised before the enterprise commissioner and in correspondence that I am in possession of—that a representative of the employer advised the employee who received those documents to tear them up and throw them in the bin. The employer was concerned on the one hand to have the employer's view made clear to the employees but when there was an alternative view, albeit a one page document which was prepared by an official of the union, that was not to be seen by the employees. I suggest that in those circumstances there is a very questionable practice of fairness being followed by the employer.

Following that process, a young man employed in the business wrote to the enterprise commissioner in the context of a hearing which was being held, as I understand it, in a home of either the employer or someone connected with the employer. That is where the hearing was held. This young man wrote to the enterprise commissioner setting out his concerns and sent a copy to the Tasmanian Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Cornish.

In that letter the young man says a number of things. Because of my limited time I will seek to table a copy of the union notice I referred to, a copy of the letter of Mr Christopher Gard, a copy of correspondence from Mr Terry Edwards, the manager of industrial services for the Tasmania Chamber of Commerce and Industry Limited, and a copy of a letter which is from a Mrs Elaine Lincolne, the mother of the young man, Mr Christopher Gard. I seek leave to table those.

Leave granted.

Senator O'BRIEN —In relation to that correspondence, it is clear—and the young man makes quite a number of points—that he is unhappy with the process and the agreement. I think he is quite brave to have done what he did. He says, amongst other things:

The whole agreement revolves around changes that reduce wages and conditions of employment. This represents an insecure future for me because if the agreement succeeds I will probably lose my job so that some-one on a lesser rate of pay can be employed. If this is in fact not the case I don't see any reason for bringing it in in the first place. The other problem that it will cause is people doing the same work for different rates of pay and this will cause problems in the workplace because it is unfair.

I also have some concerns about the Employer having knowledge of a new proposed Baking Industry Award which I believe is nearing completion. I have been informed the majority of the new proposals have been agreed to by the Unions and the TCCI—

which is the employer organisation I referred to—

on a `without prejudice' basis and discussions to resolve the few outstanding clauses has been listed for the first week in October.

We should have been told about this so that we could make real comparisons that related to the situation for the next 2 years and not on an award that will most likely be superseded in the near future.

Also when a representative from the Union attempted to hand over some documentation to employees that would inform them of this new proposed award it was destroyed and not passed on. As a union member I was never given the opportunity to involve my representative in any way.

He finishes the letter by saying:

I am almost 20 years of age and have worked in the Bakery for 15 months—my first real job and I like it. I do not want to lose my job but I feel I should have an opportunity to voice my concerns.

Subsequent to that, because a copy was sent to the minister, the minister contacted an officer of his department, Mr Edwards of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mr Edwards responded questioning the process of writing to the minister in the circumstances and questioning the genuineness of the letter. He said in the letter, amongst other things:

Minister I believe . . . that Mr Gard's letter is something of a beat up and given the circulation list is probably more designed for its political impact rather than being the genuinely held concerns of an employee.

As I said, there is a great deal of information to deal with here.

In a response to that, the letter from the young man's mother, which I have tabled, says, amongst other things, that the letter had been sent to the minister because he was the minister responsible for the act under which the agreement was being reached. In reference to that letter—and I strongly urge senators to have a close look at these papers—it is clear that the young man's mother, Mrs Lincolne, is not an opponent to enterprise bargaining but rather an opponent to the unfair way in which this agreement was reached. It is a very considered letter and I strongly urge senators to have regard to it. This is, in my opinion, a very unfortunate set of circumstances.

In closing, I cannot help taking advantage of the opportunity to refer to some comments that were made during question time by Senator Alston. In a somewhat gratuitous comment he referred to failed union officials on this side of the Senate. It would be equally improper of me to be referring to members of the legal profession who sit on the other side of the chamber as failed members of the legal profession because they were in this chamber. It is rather that they are serving the nation at a higher level—not one which ought to be denigrated in this chamber.