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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 10 November 2005 sick leave.



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Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service 10 November, 2005

Transcript

Parliament House, Canberra

Doorstop Interview - Sick Leave

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to comment this afternoon on the further misleading comments that we see

from the union movement and the Labor Party, this time about sick leave. The provisions in the Bill are quite

clear. It says firstly that an employer may ask for a certificate. Secondly it says that that certificate can be supplied

before taking sick leave or after sick leave has commenced. Thirdly it says that if there are circumstances beyond

the control of the employee that makes it unreasonable to provide that certificate then there’s no obligation to

provide it.

Now, that’s actually more in this Bill than there is in the current legislation. But beyond that, these sorts of

provisions exist in current awards. Mr Combet, I saw saying that "no they don’t". Well, I’ve had a chance to have a

look at a couple of awards and no doubt he’s got access to all of them, but the Metal Award for example says that,

"An employee must if required by the employer establish by production of a medical certificate, that the employee

was unable to work because of injury or illness". The Transport Workers Award - and I won’t go through the whole

lot of them, but it also says, "An employee shall prove by providing a medical certificate or other evidence to the

satisfaction of the employer" etcetera.

So these are provisions that are in awards at the present time which Mr Combet was denying. What this shows is

that the Labor Party and the union movement are continuing a misleading campaign. They are doing it in face of

the very evidence of industrial instruments that they themselves are parties to. It just shows the hyperbole that

we’re getting in this argument and the sort of hysterical response that’s not even truthful.

QUESTION:

But there are plenty of awards that don’t require a certificate after just one day’s absence.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

You can have a certificate that can cover more than one day’s absence. But can I point out again what the current

legislation says in Schedule 1A that if required by the employer an employee who takes carer’s leave or sick leave

in another provision, must establish by producing a medical certificate. So this is a provision in the current

schedule, it’s a provision that you find in current awards, and what we’ve put in the Bill is actually a provision that

says if it’s unreasonable because of circumstances to provide a certificate, well then, that has been dealt with.

Can I just say this points out the absurdity of the argument being made by the Labor Party and by the ACTU.

QUESTION:

Does this firm up the provisions concerning sick leave, Minister?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Sorry?

QUESTION:

Does it firm up and clarify the provisions concerning sick leave?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

What it points out quite clearly is that an employer may require a certificate. Now, that’s quite reasonable. I mean

we’ve had 400 or so workers in Western Australia on the Mandurah rail project walking off the job one day all

claiming that on that day they had the flu. The Western Australian division of the AMA actually warned its

members to be careful about issuing certificates in these sorts of circumstances, obviously because they were

concerned about the ethics of doctors doing this.

Now, in those circumstances, surely, any ordinary reasonable person would say that an employer ought to be able

to require a certificate.

QUESTION:

Will you be amending the Bill in the way that Senator Joyce has suggested on the unfair dismissal issue and

companies structuring arrangements to get under the 140 threshold?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, we don’t believe that that’s something that will happen. The consequences of trying to restructure a

company are many and substantial. First of all there are taxation implications of changing the corporate structure.

Secondly there are implications in terms of having to pay out entitlements and redundancy payments and the like

to workers, whether they’re employed under an award or employed under an agreement. Thirdly, the transmission of business rules kick in and that means if you then re-engage those same employees, then you’d be struck with

the provisions in the transmission of business rules which means that the award or agreement provisions that

apply would continue to apply to those same workers. This is not something that we believe is going to happen.

QUESTION:

On the sick leave provisions, do you think this will change the reality for people suffering chronic illness? Workers

suffering chronic illness?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

These provisions basically replicate the sorts of provisions that are in the legislation at the moment and, as I’ve

pointed out, are in awards and they are reasonable provisions because they say that if because of some

circumstance it’s not possible to provide a certificate, well, that’s taken account for. I mean the situation I think

was said that if somebody is in some remote or rural area where there’s not access readily to a general

practitioner. Well, this provision actually takes account of that sort of circumstance.

QUESTION:

Minister, just on the passage of this legislation through the House of Representatives, it’s been a long hard haul

for you developing and selling these reforms. Is this a moment to pop the champagne?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

No, we haven’t finished this process. It’s going to a Senate committee next week and it’s got to go to the Senate

debate. So we’re still hard at it. We will be continuing to argue the case for reform because this is all about

ensuring that we can have a strong economy in the future.

QUESTION:

Did you think you would achieve these reforms by the passing of your 50th birthday a few months ago, Minister?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

I haven’t had much time to think about my 50th birthday, to be honest. No, look, the two are unrelated I suppose.

QUESTION:

Do you anticipate the Government moving any amendments when it gets to the Senate?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

I have said that if there are technical matters which arise in the examination of the bills then obviously we would

look at any technical matters. It’s quite common for governments to dot any I’s or cross any T’s, so to speak, on

legislation if scrutiny of it indicates something like that. And that’s why we are supporting the process of a Senate

committee.

QUESTION:

And have any of those sorts of matters come to your attention yet?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

No. I mean, most - I think what’s amazing about this debate to date is there has not been any sort of really detailed

consideration of the legislation by the Labor Party. The Labor Party were complaining this morning - I make this

point - are complaining this morning they didn’t have enough time. In the debate on the legislation, the

consideration in detail, there was no debate on the detail. I mean, on a bill that’s usually the time when an

Opposition raises issues of detail. And the Labor Party weren’t raising issues of detail, we just had more of the

same old rhetoric.

QUESTION:

And would you consider changing the averaging arrangements around the 38 hour week. I think Senator Fielding

has got a proposal to average over the course of a month rather than over the 12 months.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, averaging arrangements are being used currently. Nurses, for example, because of the nature of nursing and

the hours in which they work, nurses have averaging arrangements in some of their industrial instruments at the

present time. And it makes sense to be able to do that. So we believe that being able to average over a period of a

year does give the sort of flexibility that not just employers want but employees want in many instances.

QUESTION:

When was your last discussion with Barnaby Joyce on the legislation?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Look, I’m not going into when and where I talk to any of my colleagues, just to say that I talk to all my colleagues

on a regular basis.

QUESTION:

Are you confident he’ll vote for it?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

I’m confident that the legislation will pass the Senate because these are matters which the government is

committed to. We’ve had long discussions in not only Cabinet but in Committee. We’ve had Party Room

discussion of it and it’s something which members of the Coalition believe firmly is necessary to be done for the

national interest.

QUESTION:

Are Australian workers in general taking too many sickies?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Look, I can’t really comment on that. I would hope that people would take sick leave when they need to take sick

leave, that’s the purpose of it. Any system can be brought into disrepute if it’s abuse. And I’m not saying it’s being

abused, I’m just making a general observation about any matter. But I think most people know that sick leave is

something which is important to them, that’s why we’ve protected it in the legislation and I think most people use

things like that in a quite genuine way.

QUESTION:

What do you say to workers who are considering walking off the job to join this national day of protest that the

ACTU is organising for later this month?

KEVIN ANDREWS:

I’d say that people would be better served by actually looking at the detail of what’s in the legislation and the

policy rather than listening to the continuing misleading claims by the ACTU about the legislation. And if this

latest example of sick leave is an indication of this continuing misleading campaign, then it’s something which is

just really quite nonsensical and absurd.

QUESTION:

Are you thinking of taking legal action if any of those sort of stoppages .....

KEVIN ANDREWS:

That’s a matter for employers. There are provisions in the law that relate to employer and employees. That’s a

matter for them in their individual circumstances.

QUESTION:

But it would be illegal for people to walk off the job for that day and attend those protests.

KEVIN ANDREWS:

Well, there are provisions and there are provisions in relation to example docking pay if somebody does that, but

that’s a matter for each individual employer as to how they react to it and how they deal with their own workforce.

Thank you.

ENDS

For further information contact:

Ian Hanke 0409 715 861