Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of doorstop interview of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations: Parliament House, Canberra: Labor Force Figures July 2005.\n

Download PDFDownload PDF




Labor Force Figures July

Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Canberra

KEVIN ANDREWS: Ladies and gentlemen, can I mention two things today. Firstly, the House of Representatives has passed the Government's legislation to establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. This is our response, which we've been trying to make for a number of years, to the report of the Cole Royal Commission which found that the commercial building and construction industry is one which is replete with corrupt, unlawful and in some instances criminal behaviour. And for once and for all we want to put in place a commission that will crack down on these activities. Whether the activities are undertaken by employees or employers or contractors, we believe that this should be stamped out of the industry because it is a $50 billion industry. This could lead, according to reports, to an increase of 1% in GDP, a decrease of 1% in inflation. And we believe that this legislation should now be passed by the Senate speedily so that we can have the Commission put in place and get rid of this criminal and unlawful activity once and for all.

Secondly, today's unemployment figure of 5% is continuing great news for Australian families for Australian workers. It's also a vindication again of the Government's reform program. The fact that over the last 9 years we are prepared to make changes to industrial relations, make changes to economic reform, so that we can grow jobs and wages in this country. The fact that we have 1.7 million extra Australians in employment is something which is a clear vindication that continuing economic reform is necessary. And it also points to why we believe that further reform is necessary. That had we not taken these measures in the past we wouldn't have the outcome that is reflected again in the unemployment figures today. And if we are looking forward to the next 5 or 10 years in Australia then further reform, including some further changes to the workplace relations framework is necessary if we are going to continue to have jobs growth and wages growth in Australia.

JOURNALIST: If you can get to 5% under the existing policy settings, how low can you go to (inaudible) relations reform (inaudible) simply a matter of treading water?

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, we don't put a figure on this, but what we do say is if you look at other countries around the world they've got better unemployment rates than Australia. If you go across the Tasman to New Zealand, they've got an unemployment rate which is below 4%. In the UK the unemployment rate is below 5%. So we can do better. It's good to have unemployment at 5% but there are still tens of thousands of Australians who haven't got a job.

JOURNALIST: Do those countries have a tougher IR regime than Australia does?

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, you can look at countries that have old IR regimes. Ones that have great rigidity in their workplace relations and other frameworks. Look at countries like Germany and France and Spain that have unemployment at 10% and 11% compared to those countries who have a more flexible system and have much lower unemployment. And that's clear in Australia as well. Where there is industries that have more flexible workplace arrangements they have higher productivity, and they have better outcomes for their workers.

JOURNALIST: Which policy specifically do you think over the past 10 years have been responsible for driving the unemployment rate down to 5%?

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, it is a combination of policies. But if you just look at workplace relations, the report of Access Economics which was commissioned for the Business Council indicated that had there not been the changes to the workplace relations system to provide more flexibility, then the unemployment rate wouldn't be the 5% we're talking about today. It would probably be around 8%. That's some hundreds of thousands of Australians who have got jobs because of the changes that we have made.

JOURNALIST: Are you familiar with the South Australian Industrial Relations Commission criticism made in WA where in the case of a 15-year-old woman who was paid 25% under award conditions?

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, I've seen the reports about the case. And the situation was that this AWA hadn't been approved by the Office of Employment Advocate. Therefore, quite appropriately, as the South Australian court found, that the person concerned was employed under the award, and she should have been paid according to the award. So that was quite an appropriate finding.

What I can say is, that the Office of Employment Advocate, the employment advocate has a special unit, or part of its operations, to look at AWAs for young people, and I've certainly told the employment advocate, in light of this instance, that they should be quite careful in the way they scrutinise them so that you don't have instances where inappropriate outcomes are the case.

JOURNALIST: ... sign of things to come.

KEVIN ANDREWS: We expect unions to say that. They should also be saying that people on AWAs on average are paid more than people both

on collective agreements, and certainly much more than people on awards. See let's see some fair sort of --

JOURNALIST: ... wage rises over a number of years to get their special long service leave. What mechanism are you going to put in place so that they can guarantee that that 26 weeks of long service leave with still be there?

KEVIN ANDREWS: This was a question I was asked in the parliament yesterday and which I answered. We've said all along that the award system will remain in place. We're not proposing to abolish the award system. And what people have under an award they are able to keep. So, people who are employed, like the nurses that was instanced, who have provisions for long service leave will keep those provisions for long service leave.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

KEVIN ANDREWS: What I'm saying is, there are two systems that will run in parallel. This is what we have said all the time. The detail will be in the legislation.

JOURNALIST: Mr Andrews --

KEVIN ANDREWS: Can I finish the question, please. Can I finish the answer. We've said that there are two systems, the reward system that will be retained and there is an agreement-making system. What people have got under their awards, and the long service leave is an instance of that, they will retain for those workers - they will be retained for those workers under the award. I can't make it - I can't make it any clearer than that. The detail, as we keep saying, will be provided in many pages, no doubt, in the legislation when it is provided in October. So ...

JOURNALIST: You had said, minister, that long service leave, if I understand correctly, that it won't be an allowable measure of awards. How can it be maintained in awards if it is not an allowable measure?

KEVIN ANDREWS: What we are saying is that long service leave provisions that people have under awards is something that they will keep if that's in excess of the standard. That's quite clear.

JOURNALIST: Mr Andrews, what the Government need to clarify one of the seven key points it has in the advertisements for the IR reforms which says that the Government would preserve the right for people to negotiate collective agreements. That means to negotiate, not to have a right to a collective agreement. Wouldn't the average reader think that this was presuming a right for collective agreement?

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, the situation has been for some time and is currently that an employer can offer somebody employment according to a particular industrial instrument. They can offer employment on an award. They can offer employment on a collective agreement, they can offer employment on an individual AWA. That is the law as it is now and there is no proposal to

change that.

JOURNALIST: But this preserves the right to negotiate a collective agreement. Doesn't the average reader think that means preserve the right to a collective agreement, do you think?

KEVIN ANDREWS: There is no provision now that says you have got a right to any sort of particular agreement unless it falls under the provisions of an award which has been negotiated usually by a union with a group of employers, usually, or it is an agreement which is collectively negotiated or indeed an individual under a negotiated agreement. There is nothing new in relation to this that we are proposing.

JOURNALIST: This is an artful used of words. Why make that a key point if you are saying to negotiate a collective agreement

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, I can only say what I have said so far. The law as it is now will remain in the future in relation to this. Thank you.


For further information contact:

Russ Street 0417 044 712