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Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Page: 957

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:51): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is the Fair Work Australia general manager's report into the extent to which individual flexibility arrangements are agreed to and the content of those arrangements. The coalition welcomes this report. The coalition has been supportive of the concept of individual flexibility agreements.

It will be recalled that the Labor government developed a policy called Forward with Fairness in which they initially simply ruled out Australian workplace agreements. Because of the reaction from the community the Labor Party at that time came back with a remodelled and refocused Forward with Fairness document promising individual flexibility agreements.

We believe that is a very important part of the makeup of any modern workplace relations system: that there be the opportunity for workers and their employers to get together and work out relevant individual flexibility arrangements that suit both their needs. It is common sense and it is indicative of the different nature of family responsibilities these days and also the needs of various workplaces.

It would be fair to say that the government has not necessarily been as embracing of individual flexibility arrangements as they should be. They did not include it in their first version of Forward with Fairness and they reluctantly put it into their second version and then designed a system that we believe was basically designed to fail.

In relation to individual flexibility agreements it will be recalled that they can be unilaterally terminated on either party giving 28 days notice. So, if a female employee, for example, seeks to have a flexibility arrangement to cater for her child-care needs, the boss, with 28 days notice, can simply cancel the agreement. Good luck to the lady employee seeking to get alternative child care arrangements in place within 28 days. Indeed, the example given in the explanatory memorandum to the bill was that of Josh, a gym instructor, who might want to coach his son's soccer team. Well, the soccer season goes for longer than 28 days. Therefore, if Josh did want to coach his son's soccer team and get involved in an individual flexibility agreement, there would be no guarantee for Josh that he could see out the soccer season. As a result, he could not make that commitment.

The highly skewed terms of reference and the mates who were appointed to the review of the Fair Work Act were mugged by the reality that this 28-day period of notice for unilateral termination was inappropriate, and they recommended a 90-day period. Mr Shorten has that report; the government has that report. They have already introduced the first tranche of amendments to the Fair Work Act pursuant to the review. The simplest amendment they could make is to delete 28 and insert 90 to require an employer or employee to give 90 days notice, thus providing greater certainty. But Mr Shorten is unwilling to make that amendment and one has to ask why. The reason is that they were never committed to individual flexibility agreements in the first place. They wanted them to fail. They basically have failed. They have not been taken up as they should have been, and the reason is that the termination period, especially, is so short and limited that it does not make it worthwhile.

Further, the individual flexibility arrangements are not well known. Indeed, most workers find out through their boss or they hey find out through the public. But, regrettably, they have not known about it through their union bosses, which is something I would encourage union bosses to do in the future. (Time expired)