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Transcript of doorstop interview: State Parliament House, Perth: 7 July 2006: AWAs; Statistics ; OWS ruling on Cowra Abattoir; Building and Construction Commission.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth E&OE T52/06



SMITH: A couple of industrial relations matters today.

Firstly overnight we see the most recent Government statistics so far as Australian Workplace Agreements are concerned. In the latest quarterly statistics for workplace agreements we find we now have over 41,000 AWAs since the Government’s legislation came into effect. Over 6,000 in the first month of operation, over 13,000 in the second month of operation, and over 21,000 last month. This is frankly alarming growth and showing the utilisation of the new AWAs which shred conditions and entitlements.

We’ve previously seen evidence from the Office of Employment Advocate that of the new AWAs 16% shred all of the so-called protected conditions like penalty rates, overtime and leave loadings. 100% shred one of them and over 50%-60% shred important take home pay components like overtime, penalty rates and leave loadings.

So we’ve now got 41,000 new AWAs and the Office of Employment Advocate has previously said that very many of these are now found amongst employers who employ 100 or fewer employees. That’s very relevant because you now see the invidious combination of the taking away of unfair dismissal rights and the shredding of conditions and entitlements thorough AWAs.

Unfair dismissal leads me to the second issue which is of course the Cowra Abattoir. Today we see the second report from the Office of Workplace Services about the Cowra Abattoir matters. You will recall that the Cowra Abattoir was one of the first examples of conduct under the Government’s new legislation.

The Office of Workplace Services had previously concluded in a report in May that the conduct of Cowra Abattoir was lawful and they actually recommended that no further

action be taken. In its desperation to avoid this point, the Government effectively ensured that a supplementary or a second report was commissioned.

Today that has been released and the Office of Workplace Services makes it clear when it has investigated the conduct of the Cowra Abattoir under the Government’s new legislation, that what the Cowra Abattoir did and was proposing to do was lawful.

What this means is that if you are sacked for so-called operational reasons by an employer who has more than 100 employees then you lose your unfair dismissal rights. Operational reasons are drafted very broadly to include effectively any economic, social or technological reason.

You can be sacked for operational reasons and then that day or the next day offered your job back at inferior conditions. John Howard and Kevin Andrews have been desperately trying to avoid this fact from day one.

Today I see the Minister out there again desperately seeking to misrepresent what the Office of Workplace Services has said. The Minister is out there saying that the Office of Workplace Services has said that this was available to the Cowra Abattoir under the old law. The Office of Workplace Services report, both in its first report in May and its second report today, deal exclusively with the new law. They make it clear that you can be sacked for an operational reason, offered your job back at inferior terms and conditions, and under John Howard that is lawful.

JOURNALIST: The message from the Building and Construction Commission yesterday, what impact do you think that is going have on industrial relations over the next year or so?

SMITH: I think the most prescient comment about the Building Commission’s conduct and the Howard Government’s law was made today by the company itself. The company itself, Leighton-Kumagai, made the point today that they didn’t regard this contribution as a helpful one, they didn’t regard this contribution as leading to productivity on the site, and they were quite surprised that after this matter had been resolved in February/March and there had been productive activity on the site since then, that out of the blue this most unhelpful contribution occurred. So I think that people should look no further than what the company itself is saying: that the company don’t regard this as a helpful contribution. All of the points that Kim and I made yesterday were made true today. Don’t look at what we said yesterday, look at what the company is saying today.

JOURNALIST: ….blue flu, do you think the Commission trying to fine workers is likely to …?

SMITH: I just repeat what the company has said: out of the blue, after this matter was resolved in February/March, resolved by way of settlement, out of blue after a period of productive activity, this occurs. The company itself says it regards this as not a positive measure, as not a positive move. So the point that Kim and I made yesterday: if

you have this sort of industrial relations environment, this dog eat dog environment, where harmony, confidence, and trust is not at the forefront, but where disharmony, disruption, lack of confidence, lack of trust, impartiality, the hints and the worries and the difficulties that arise from people being seen as being politically motivated, then you have these very regrettable outcomes. The only way in the end that you can stop these occurring, is to change the Government and change the legislation.

JOURNALIST: The ABCC says it’s still investigating and there are more charges pending, what effect do you think that will have on that uncertainty?

SMITH: Again, as the company has said itself today, the company would presumably regard further charges as being another unhelpful contribution.

JOURNALIST: There seems to be a rumour today that there may be 20 employees culled….

SMITH: I haven’t seen those rumours and I think that in these matters we are always best off dealing with fact rather than speculation.


Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651