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Continuing workplace relations reform: joint communique from Commonwealth, State and Territory Workplace Relations [Labour] Ministers.

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The Hon Peter Reith, MP

Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business

Leader of the House of Representatives


19 May 1999




The Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) met in Melbourne today.

The Council discussed issues including recent legislative and wages developments in federal and State jurisdictions, progress with award simplification, continuing harmonisation of Australia' s workplace relations framework, youth wages, labour market research (including a new paper on flexibility in Long Service Leave arrangements), employee entitlements on insolvency of business, the national code of practice for the construction industry and developments in occupational health and safety and workers compensation.

The federal Employment Advocate, Mr Jonathon Hamberger, attended the meeting and made a presentation to Ministers on the first two years of operation of the Office of the Employment Advocate.

Policy Developments

Ministers welcomed the recent decision by the Full Bench of the AIRC in the 1999 ‘Safety Net Wage Case’, noting that it seeks to balance economic and social considerations and that it continued to provide real wage maintenance for low paid workers whilst having regard to employment consequences and the need to maintain jobs and job security.

Ministers noted that the AIRC’s junior rates inquiry has concluded its process of consultation, including with the Commonwealth, on behalf of the joint Governments, and other States. The federal Government and the States of Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory lodged a joint submission to support the retention of the current system of junior rates as being of key significance for protecting the jobs of young people.

Ministers reconfirmed their view expressed at the last meeting that in this debate the protection of existing youth employment and the growth of new job opportunities for young unemployed were of paramount importance.

Labour Market Research

Ministers noted that the Commonwealth had released in April 1999, in conjunction with participating governments, a research report on Employee Attitudes to Workplace Reform, which is now publicly available.

A new discussion paper, commissioned under the Council’s Labour Market Research Program, is to be released on Flexibility in Long Service Leave . The paper has been prepared by Western Australia, in consultation with the Commonwealth. The paper overviews long service leave in Australia and discusses options for more flexible approaches to long service leave that could provide advantages to both employers and employees.

In particular, the paper canvasses options to allow employees flexibility to either cash out the whole or part of long service leave entitlements, be more flexible in when long service leave is taken or incorporate a mix of flexibility in relation to payment and timing options.

A separate press release has been issued today by Minister Cheryl Edwardes and Minister Peter Reith on the discussion paper.

WRMC research and discussion papers are released under the Labour Market Research Program on the basis that the views or conclusions of the papers do not necessarily represent the policies of the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council collectively or individual participating governments that commissioned the report.

Ministers also discussed other options for new Labour Market Research projects, including executive salaries, annual leave loading and sick leave. The progress of these matters, and the jurisdictions choosing to participate in any or all of them would be finalised in coming weeks.

Although not a component of the Labour Market Research program nor Commonwealth policy, Minister Reith referred to a recent discussion paper released by the Commonwealth concerning the possible greater use of the corporations power as the constitutional basis for federal workplace relations legislation. The paper had been distributed to States and other interested parties, and feedback on the issues raised was welcomed.

National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry

Ministers from participating jurisdictions agreed that more substantial progress needs to be made on implementing the National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry, and agreed that operation of the Code in jurisdictions should be achieved by no later than July 1999. Ministers also reiterated their commitment to implement monitoring and reporting arrangements to underpin national procedures for the exchange of information on compliance with the Code. Progress on individual State codes was also reported on.

The Council noted the Commonwealth position that projects funded from the Federation Fund and other Commonwealth programs, involving construction, will be tied to agreement to implement the Code in a manner consistent with the Commonwealth Implementation Guidelines on those projects.

All participating States and Territories agreed to aim for a common approach to implementation of the Code on large public works projects within their jurisdictions, irrespective of the source of funding.

Legislative Developments

Ministers reported on current legislative developments within their jurisdictions. It was noted that on 6 May 1999 the federal Minister released an implementation paper setting out proposed changes to the federal workplace relations legislative and administrative framework. The release of the paper is part of the process for giving effect to the initiatives set out in the More Jobs Better Pay workplace relations policy released in September 1998. The federal Government expects to introduce a legislative package into Parliament in the near future following further consultation, including through the National Labour Consultative Council.

The Council also noted developments in South Australia where legislation has recently been introduced which among other things, seeks to streamline and simplify agreement making processes; better express minimum safety net standards; provide scope for greater flexibilities in agreements and public holidays; tighten access to the unfair dismissal provisions; and streamline the number of allowable matters in South Australian awards.

It was also noted that the Queensland Government is considering the recommendations of its 1998 industrial relations Task Force and intends to introduce legislation in the near future to amend its State industrial relations legislation.

It was also noted that on 5 th May 1999 New South Wales released an issues paper on possible amendments to the NSW industrial relations legislation.

Harmonisation of the Workplace Relations Framework

The Council welcomed the continuing progress with harmonising the administrative features of Australia’s workplace relations framework. Ministers noted in particular the implementation of arrangements in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia where those States are delivering federal award inquiry and compliance functions, providing a one-stop shop for employers and employees in those States.

Negotiations between the Commonwealth and Tasmania are being concluded at officer level. There is in-principle agreement that for Tasmania to deliver services on behalf of the Commonwealth and it is expected that contractual arrangements will be shortly finalised.

Ministers also welcomed the progress that has been made with benchmarking inquiry and compliance arrangements in federal and State jurisdictions. It is expected that a report on benchmarking will be released by the Council later this year.

Ministers also noted that progress is being made with regard to the possible delivery of federal industrial registry services by two States, Western Australia and Queensland, and in relation to benchmarking of federal and State registry services.

Employee Entitlements on Insolvency of Business

Ministers received reports from jurisdictions on issues arising since the last WRMC meeting. Ministers noted that, following a referral of corporations law aspects of this issue from WRMC, the Ministerial Council for Corporations (MINCO) is progressing proposals aimed at preventing misuse of company structures to avoid payment of employee entitlements and strengthening existing related party and insolvent trading provisions.

Office of the Employment Advocate

The federal Employment Advocate provided Ministers with an oral and written overview of the first two years of operation of the OEA. In particular reference was made to the OEA’s freedom of association functions and responsibilities relating to the promotion and approval of Australian Workplace Agreements.

Comparative Performance Monitoring of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Workers Compensation

The Council agreed to the release of a new publication entitled Comparison of Occupational Health and Safety Arrangements in Australian Jurisdictions. The publication provides a matrix of comparative information on the different approaches to achieving workplace health and safety in Commonwealth, State and Territory jurisdictions. It provides information on the regulatory framework as well as the policies and activities undertaken by each of the jurisdictions to prevent workplace injury and disease.

The information matrix supplements the first report on comparative performance monitoring of OHS and workers compensation arrangements which was released by WRMC in December 1998.

Ministers also welcomed further progress in developing the comparative performance monitoring project more generally, particularly through the development of workers compensation performance measures.

Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to settling final legislative arrangements for mutual recognition of employees working temporarily in another jurisdiction, and directed that drafting be finalised to enable appropriate legislative action in State jurisdictions.

Name Change for Council

The title of the Labour Ministers’ Council has been changed to the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council, with consequential change to the (now) Departments of Workplace Relations Advisory Committee (DWRAC).

The new name of the Council will take immediate effect.

Attendance included the federal Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Peter Reith; the Victorian Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Mark Birrell; and the Victorian Minister for Finance, Roger Hallam; the Queensland Minister for Employment, Training and Industrial Relations, Paul Braddy; the Western Australian Minister for Environment, Labour Relations, Cheryl Edwardes; the South Australian Minister for Government Enterprises, Michael Armitage; the Tasmanian Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Industrial Relations, Peter Patmore.

The Northern Territory Minister (Daryl Manzie) was represented by Eric Poole MLA; apologies were received from the Ministers from NSW (Jeff Shaw) and New Zealand (Max Bradford). The ACT Minister (Kate Carnell) was represented by a senior official.

The Office of the Employment Advocate was represented by Mr. Jonathan Hamburger.

For further information contact: Ian Hanke: 0419 484 095.



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