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Labor's plan for job security.



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Kim Beazley - Labor's Plan for Job Security

http://www.alp.org.au//media/1001/kbmsjobs111001.html Sunday, 14 October 2001

ALP News Statements

Labor's Plan for Job Security Kim Beazley - Leader of the Opposition

Media Statement - 11 October 2001

Under John Howard, Australians have come to fear for the security of their jobs, their wages, their conditions, and even their legal entitlements in the case of company collapse.

Labor's comprehensive job security plan will make the lives of working Australians fairer, safer and more productive.

Labor will:

Protect 100 per cent of workers' entitlements when the employer becomes insolvent. ●

Protect 100 per cent of superannuation entitlements from theft and fraud, and require super payments to be made quarterly rather than annually.

●

Strengthen the independence, authority and resources of the industrial umpire to safeguard the wages and conditions of employees.

●

Strengthen the award system to guarantee decent wages and conditions of employees. ●

Establish an industrial inspectorate to ensure awards and agreements are properly enforced. ●

Boost resources to protect workers' occupational health and safety. ●

Australia has experienced widespread company collapses in recent years. But the only workers to receive 100 per cent of their entitlements from John Howard's Government were those that worked for the company chaired by John Howard's brother.

Even after producing seven different schemes in response to growing demands from workers to protect their entitlements, John Howard still hasn't got it right. His latest plan restricts redundancy payouts to just eight weeks. This penalises long serving workers for their loyalty and forces ordinary taxpayers to pay for the mistakes of company bosses -including those at the helm of our biggest corporations.

Labor has a solution which is fair and effective. A small contribution of around 0.1 per cent of payroll from large companies will be applied to a comprehensive national insurance scheme for all workers' entitlements. Small businesses will not even pay that. Under Labor's plan, the Federal Government will assume responsibility for covering their employees.

A fair, safe and productive workplace is central to the prosperity and development of Australia's economy and society. It is also central to the wellbeing and security of Australia's working families.

It is time for John Howard's war of attrition in the workplace to end.

Labor's plan will give all Australian workers the security they want and deserve.

Kim Beazley's Plan for Job Security

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.

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Kim Beazley's Plan for Job Security http://www.alp.org.au//policy/employment/job_security.html Sunday, 14 October 2001

Kim Beazley's Plan for Job Security Overview ● The Howard Government's Failures

Job Insecurity ❍ Conflict ❍ Awards ❍ Employee Entitlements ❍

●

Kim Beazley's Plan for Job Security Protecting Workers' Entitlements ❍ Protecting Superannuation ❍ Improving Corporate Behaviour ❍

A Strong Independent Industrial Umpire ❍ A Fair, Productive and Prosperous Workplace ❍ A Fair Award System ❍ Industrial Inspectorate ❍

Safe Workplaces ❍

●

Costing ●

Overview A fair, safe and productive workplace is central to the prosperity and development of the Australian economy and society. It is also central to the wellbeing and security of Australian working families.

These are basic principles that have underpinned industrial relations in Australia for nearly 100 years. They are not the basic principles

governing the Australian workplace today.

The system which drew its strength from workplace cooperation and consultation has been replaced by one that a Judge of the Victorian Supreme Court has described as "ritualised mayhem in which only the innocent are slaughtered".

This is the legacy of John Howard.

The war of attrition in the workplace has gone on long enough. It is not sensible economic policy. It is not good social policy. It is not in the public interest. It is not the Australian way.

Bringing it to an end and bringing peace back to the workplace will take time and careful readjustment. But there are immediate actions which an incoming Labor Government can and will take for a fairer, safer, more cooperative world of work which will encourage not only greater efficiency in the workplace but also greater security and prosperity for workers and their families.

It is clearly in the public interest that the economy grows and that industry succeeds and creates wealth. It is also in the public interest to make sure that all those who contribute to achieving these aims receive a fair share of the reward. The more open the economy, the greater the need for vigilance in caring for the public interest.

Labor has always been the Party of secure jobs, secure living standards, and secure livelihoods. Labor will restore a sense of security and decency to Australia's workplaces, and remove the fear and anguish which has become the lot of working people under the Howard Government.

The Howard Government's Failures

Job Insecurity

The world of work is changing rapidly. The Australian workforce is now more atomised than at any other time in our history. We have one of the highest levels of casual and contingent employment in the developed world - more than a quarter of the workforce. We are working longer hours than we were a decade ago. Surveys by both employee and employer organisations show that the sense of insecurity and demoralisation among Australian workers is great and growing.

This cannot be in the interests of employers or employees and their families. It cannot help our workplaces become more innovative and

productive. Yet John Howard's laws have so distorted the balance of influence between employer and employee that individual employees have less capacity to protect themselves and their interests now, than for many years.

In the world of work these days, only the strong and aggressive survive.

Conflict

There is a sense of conflict and unease in too many workplaces.

Workplace disputes last longer. The incidence of those lasting longer than 20 days has more than doubled since John Howard became Prime Minister, reflecting his Government's preference for the gladiatorial approach to workplace relations. The independence, role, power and resources of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission have been so undermined that it can no longer be an effective industrial umpire and peacemaker.

The statistics disguise the bitterness of disputes which John Howard's system has encouraged and legalised: masked men and attack dogs chasing people out of their place of work; workers locked out for months at a time because they refused to accept 17.5% pay cuts; and, companies locking their workers out of their jobs on Christmas Eve.

Awards

Traditionally, our award system has been a lifeline for working people and their families hoping for a decent standard of living. Despite the growth of enterprise bargaining, nearly one quarter of all workers continue to depend on awards to ensure their wages and conditions. Awards have proved essential in training workers, looking after their health and safety and protecting them from discrimination.

In 1995, John Howard pledged that "no worker in Australia under the Howard industrial relations policy can have his or her award conditions taken away". Yet, within months of taking office, his Government stripped awards down to the barest minimum. This has been a central factor in the unprecedented recent growth in Australia of the "working poor".

Disturbing data from surveys of about 800,000 low-paid working households, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show that:

30,000 had to go without meals for lack of money; ● 41,000 sold or pawned household goods to make ends meet; ●

220,000 reported that their living standard was lower than two years before; and ●

166,000 could not pay utility bills. ●

While the Howard Government has downgraded its interest in work-related health and safety, the human toll from unsafe workplaces and work practices continues to rise. It is estimated that 440 people die and 130,000 are affected every year as the result of work-related injury or illness.

Employee Entitlements

A procession of ever larger, ever higher-profile corporate failures has demonstrated the Government's unwillingness to protect the entitlements of workers in such situations. Pressure from the Labor Party and the union movement on behalf of the workers caught in this predicament has forced the Government to respond. John Howard has made policy on the run on this issue for the last 2 years. We have seen ad hoc policy decisions with no direction and no focus - a total of 7 different policy positions over that time.

John Howard's Positions on Employee Entitlements

Date Event/Policy version number

June 1999

Version 1: John Howard opposes any support for Oakdale Mine workers and defends the ability of business to use employee entitlements for company cash flow purposes.

August 1999

Version 2: Under pressure, John Howard and Peter Reith introduce legislation to enable Oakdale miners to be paid full entitlements from the coal industry long service leave fund.

August 1999 Version 3: Peter Reith announces the government will legislate a national scheme by 31 December 1999. No legislation ever tabled in Parliament.

January 2000

National Textiles under the Chairmanship of John Howard's brother Stan Howard placed into administration. Workers entitlements unlikely to be paid.

February 2000

Version 4: Peter Reith announces administrative arrangements that require State and Territory Governments to partially fund an inadequate, capped, so called 'safety net' scheme - Employee Entitlements Support Scheme (EESS).

February 2000

Version 5: National Textiles get special additional Federal funds to provide 100 per cent entitlements for National Textile workers. No other worker in any company in any city or town has ever received this extra support from John Howard.

September 2001 Version 6: John Howard announces that a special scheme will apply for Ansett workers. Government announces new travel tax on all airline passengers.

September 2001

Version 7: Details of a new general employee entitlements scheme become public. This scheme still fails to protect 100 per cent of employee entitlements and places the total burden on taxpayers to meet the costs of corporate mismanagement.

Version 7 of John Howard's entitlements scheme still fails to provide thousands of Ansett workers with their full redundancy entitlements. For example: George Kerry has been an Ansett employee for 29 years, and stands to lose nearly $80,000 under John Howard's latest scheme.

Nearly two years ago at the time of the collapse of National Textiles, the company run by his brother Stan, John Howard said:

I think if I were in their shoes I would feel that I was entitled to every last cent of that redundancy. ●

Under the special deal done for National Textiles, those workers finally got all of the money owed to them with a special extra payment from the Federal Government, something that Ansett employees and other workers are not able to hope for.

The Government still has not set up a national system which protects all that is owed to workers if their employers fold. It still will not set up a system that requires employers to bear their share of the responsibility in such cases.

It is only when the hardship caused by lost entitlements embarrasses John Howard personally - as in the case of National Textiles, where his brother was the Chairman - that the workers affected are fully compensated.

John Howard will only ever act to protect the interests of the better-off. He has to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything for average workers.

Under John Howard, workers in cases of company failure have all too frequently been denied the full entitlements they need to provide for their mortgage or their retirement.

Kim Beazley's Plan for Job Security Labor will give the highest priority and urgency to a program for a fairer, safer, better world of work.

Labor will:

Protect 100% of a workers entitlements, if an employer goes out of business and can't pay any of those entitlements; ●

Strengthen the independence, authority and resources of the industrial umpire to keep the industrial peace; ●

Safeguard a strong award system to guarantee fair minimum standards, with awards and agreements properly enforced; ●

Ensure the bargaining system promotes fairness and efficiency in the workplace; ●

Prevent employers from using unscrupulous practices to avoid their financial obligations to workers; ●

Protect superannuation entitlements from theft and fraud, and require super payments to be made quarterly rather than annually; and

●

Bring Federal and State Governments together to minimise the cost and trauma of injury to workers and industry. ●

Protecting Workers' Entitlements

In contrast to John Howard's record of inconsistency, indecision and special favours on employee entitlements, Labor has consistently argued for a comprehensive national insurance scheme.

Since 1996, Labor has sought to provide protection for employees' entitlements in a series of Private Member's Bills.

These Bills proposed a system in which employers would be required to contribute to an insurance scheme to protect their employees' entitlements in the event of insolvency. Rather than debate these Bills, the Liberal and

National parties have used their numbers to prevent the Parliament from even considering them.

The great majority of employers arrange to meet their liability for accrued employees' entitlements in the event of insolvency. There has been a succession of cases over recent years, however, in which companies becoming insolvent have not put aside sufficient assets to guarantee their employees' entitlements.

In most of these cases, employees have been owed many thousands of dollars, causing great hardship to them and to their families. Much of this hardship has occurred in regional and rural areas already suffering disproportionate economic and social disadvantage.

Through all of this, Labor's plan has remained the most efficient, practical and equitable way to protect employee entitlements.

Labor's policy is to require large employers to contribute to a national insurance scheme to protect their employees' entitlements.

Labor estimates that a comprehensive scheme would cost businesses with more than 20 employees no more than 0.1% of payroll.

Most employers are required now to pay Superannuation Guarantee payments into the appropriate superannuation funds of their employees. This is a tried and true system for collecting these funds. Labor would require the additional contribution from large employers to be paid in the same way.

This payment would be passed on to an accredited insurer who would offer the insurance product. Employees in the event of insolvency could make a claim for their entitlements directly from the insurer. The insurer would assess the claim and make the payment through the superannuation fund.

There is precedent for this. Currently, many superannuation funds offer death and disability insurance. These funds are able to negotiate this form of insurance with a third party provider on a group basis. This enables the funds to negotiate the lowest possible premiums on behalf of their members. The third party enters into a contract with the trustees of the fund to provide death and disability insurance cover for fund members.

Employers with fewer than 20 employees will be exempt from the additional payment, with the Federal Government assuming responsibility for covering their employees.

Taxpayers will thus be required only to cover the employees of small

business.

A number of workplaces and some industries have already established satisfactory arrangements to protect employee entitlements. Employers who offer an equivalent degree of protection for employee entitlements will not be required to contribute to Labor's scheme.

In addition, Labor will undertake more detailed analysis of insolvency experience in Australia as part of the negotiations to establish the national insurance scheme. If the scheme can be established at a lesser cost than identified in this policy, Labor will reduce the required contributions accordingly.

Labor's scheme will begin in July 2002.

Protecting Superannuation

Given the growth of job insecurity under the Howard Government, Labor believes Australian workers also deserve stronger protection of their superannuation.

Superannuation is about secure living standards for Australian workers. Labor believes that current protections are not strong enough. On the Government's own admission, the value of employers' Superannuation Guarantee payments that are outstanding is $76 million. The Australian Taxation Office received some 8,000 complaints regarding Superannuation Guarantee compliance last year. It estimates that some 800 employers paid no superannuation at all last year. In any effective entitlements protection scheme, this issue must be dealt with.

Under the existing provisions of the Superannuation Guarantee Administration Act, employers are required to make only one Superannuation Guarantee contribution on behalf of their employees per year. This payment must be made by 28 July, at the end of each financial year. This annual payment effectively allows some employers to make use of their employees' superannuation entitlements for up to 12 months. The risk to employees' superannuation contributions in the event of the employer becoming insolvent is obvious, with some employees likely to lose up to 12 months contributions if their employer becomes insolvent.

Labor will require that Superannuation Guarantee payments be made quarterly, rather than annually as at present.

Regular superannuation contributions payable on a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly basis have the added advantage of ensuring that employees' retirement savings begin earning interest immediately they enter

members' accounts and also provide immediate access to death and disability insurance.

In October 2000, Labor moved a Private Member's Bill to alter the minimum requirement for superannuation guarantee payments from annual to quarterly. Unfortunately, the Government refused to debate the Bill and it lapsed. Labor persistently listed this Bill before the calling of the election.

Most employers already pay more often than once a year, many paying every quarter or even every month. They should not be at a competitive disadvantage to the few employers who do not pay their employees' superannuation so conscientiously or even at all.

Furthermore, Labor will maintain the system in which 100% protection from theft and fraud is given to superannuation savings rather than undermining it as the Howard Government has sought to do.

Improving Corporate Behaviour

Any scheme to protect employee entitlements, no matter how well planned, will be undermined as long as the law allows company directors to avoid their responsibilities as they have in several cases in which employees of insolvent companies have been denied their due entitlements.

The most scandalous of these manoeuvres was the attempt by Patrick Stevedores - during the Howard Government's waterfront confrontation -to sack its workforce by shifting it into a shelf company.

Labor believes that the courts should be authorised to retrieve workers' entitlements from related companies in corporate structures where asset stripping or similar manoeuvres leave workers employed by a part of the corporate group without their legally due entitlements.

Labor will amend the Corporations Act to provide the Court with a discretion to order, when it is just to do so, that a parent company or related body corporate of an insolvent company pay the whole or part of a debt owed to an employee of an insolvent company.

A Strong And Independent Industrial Umpire

Labor, like most Australians, values and respects the role of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission as an agent of fairness and decency in the workplace, helping to prevent and settle disputes, ensuring proper standards of conduct and maintaining decent minimum standards

as a central feature of the Australian industrial system for nearly 100 years.

The Howard Government does not share this view.

When he was the Coalition industrial relations spokesman, John Howard made his objective for the Commission clear when he announced: "We will stab them in the stomach". Since winning office in 1996, he has set about his objective, reducing the authority of the Commission, its powers and its resources, and undermining its historic role by preferring the courts as the arena for settling industrial disagreement.

This is a triumph of ideology over good public policy. Labor rejects it.

Labor will restore the role, capacity and independence of the Commission so that peace is kept and justice done in the workplace. Wages and conditions agreed to between employers, employees and their organisations will be protected through the Commission, and the public interest will be served in the process.

The Commission will be given powers to deal with all industrial matters, to prevent and resolve disputes, and to ensure that the rights and entitlements of employees are fairly and properly protected. It will have the authority and resources to establish comprehensive and effective award coverage and to deal with pay equity and other issues of disadvantage in the workplace.

Labor will reduce the current excessive legalism and prohibitive cost barriers that confront people when they try to gain access to their rights.

Industrial matters will be removed from the Trade Practices Act and will instead be included in industrial legislation to be consistent with the strengthened role of the Industrial Relations Commission.

Labor will abolish the Office of the Employment Advocate, which has been expensive to operate and ineffective. Instead, appropriate resources will be provided to an industrial inspectorate for enforcement of awards and agreements.

A Fair, Productive And Prosperous Workplace

Good Faith Bargaining

Fundamental to any fair system of bargaining in the successful modern workplace is the requirement that those involved respect the rights of others and seek to achieve results that are fair and responsible. The

gladiatorial approach of the Howard Government operates against and undermines this principle.

Its changes to industrial legislation in 1996 resulted - as they were undoubtedly meant to - in a significant shift in the bargaining positions in the workplace away from the interests of employees and towards those of employers.

But laws must not serve partial interests. They must not do so especially when they have such impact on the livelihoods and security of individual working people and their families.

All those taking part in disputes have the duty to genuinely seek out solutions which are fair and which contribute to the economic benefit of the enterprise and the nation. Labor will therefore legislate to ensure that parties engaged in bargaining do so in good faith.

Collective Bargaining

Labor remains committed to enterprise bargaining as a central part of our system.

The introduction of enterprise bargaining and improved investment in plant and equipment under former Labor governments brought about the consistent improvement in labour productivity which has contributed so dramatically to Australia's economic growth and security.

For most workplaces, the enterprise will continue to be the desirable level at which to negotiate agreements. Labor places a high priority on continuing enterprise-level bargaining, a process which we created.

That said, multi-employer agreements are better suited to some industries. The right of employees to choose to be represented by unions and to bargain collectively must be recognised.

Labor will therefore provide for collective bargaining, promoted through a fair and simple stream of workplace, enterprise and multi-employer agreements, negotiated with unions collectively.

Non-union collective agreements will continue to be available in the collective bargaining framework.

Labor will legislate to ensure that the right of employees who wish to be represented by unions is protected and to prevent employees being discriminated against because of union membership or union activity.

Labor will abolish Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). After five

years, their use by employers has been minimal - involving less than 1% of the workforce - even though they have been forced on their employees by Coalition governments at Federal and State levels. More importantly, they have proved to be generally unfair and discriminatory.

AWAs are secret and unreviewable. Most adult workers on AWAs are on average $55.10 a week worse off than comparable workers on collective agreements. Though 80% of union and 63% of non-union collective agreements provide guaranteed pay increases for employees, roughly 73% of AWAs provide for no pay increases at all.

With few exceptions, employees asked to negotiate AWAs with their employers have little bargaining power. AWAs have encouraged conflict in the workplace and have been used to force down the conditions of vulnerable employees.

The Labor Party rejects this race to the bottom in working conditions.

AWAs should not be confused with common law individual contracts, which are used by 38% of the workforce and which must meet minimum standards set in awards and agreements. Common law contracts will continue to exist.

A Fair Award System

Labor believes that, in a good industrial relations system, there should be a fair, relevant and properly enforced system of minimum workplace standards for wages, conditions, health and safety.

We believe that employees, employers, unions and the Commission are best placed to decide what should be included in awards.

Labor will ensure that the Commission has the authority to establish and maintain an effective award system that provides fair, secure and relevant wages and conditions to underpin the bargaining system.

Labor will remove the artificial, unnecessary and unfair restrictions imposed by the Howard Government on the matters that can be included in awards.

Industrial Inspectorate

It is important that standards and conditions once determined are properly observed and not undermined. Labor will provide appropriate resources for the enforcement of awards and agreements. Rather than perform this essential role, the Howard Government's Office of the Employment

Advocate has been used to pursue the Government's own divisive agenda. It has proved costly, inefficient and ineffective. Labor will abolish it, and redeploy its resources more effectively to enforce awards and agreements.

Safe Workplaces

Although occupational health and safety is primarily a State responsibility, the Federal Government can and should do more to ensure appropriate standards are applied for Australian workers irrespective of where they work.

The human toll of unsafe work practices is simply too shocking to be ignored. An estimated 440 workers die as a result of work-related illness or injury every year - more than one every day - while another 130,000 suffer a work-related illness or injury. The cost of work-related injuries can be debilitating for individuals and their families, as well as for industry.

To help address these problems, Labor will work with the States to achieve a nationally consistent occupational health and safety framework which reflects best safety practice within Australia, and which is consistent with the best international standards.

Labor will continue the good work of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. Its role will be reinforced to ensure that important occupational health and safety initiatives and programs have a direct impact and application where they are most needed - in the workplace.

Labor will increase resources for research and to develop and maintain a uniform national system of occupational health and safety statistics, which detail the incidence of deaths and injury from exposure to workplace hazards.

We will work with the States, industry and unions to fast track a complete ban on the importation of deadly chrysolite asbestos by no later than 2003.

Costing

  01-02 02-03 03-04 04-05 Total

Abolish the Office of the Employment Advocate -7.0 -14.0 -14.0 -14.0 -49.0

Additional Funding for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission 5.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 26.0

Establish Industrial Inspectorate 5.0 7.0 7.0 7.0 26.0

Occupational Health and Safety 0.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 6.0

Protecting Superannuation 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Labor's Employee Entitlement Protection Scheme 0.0 22.0 22.0 22.0 66.0

Abolishing the Howard Government's Employee Entitlements Support Scheme* 0.0 -40.0 0.0 0.0 -40.0

TOTAL (millions) 3.0 -16.0 24.0 24.0 35.0

Note: costs indicated are for the Howard Government's Employee Entitlements Support Scheme (EESS), since superseded by the new, un-costed and reportedly more expensive, General Employee Entitlements Redundancy Scheme (GEERS). Labor has included EESS costings in the above table, as they are the only official numbers available (Budget 2000-01). Costings will be updated if and when the Government releases new numbers through the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO).

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.