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National Convention Centre, Canberra, 17 February 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [Waterfront dispute]

JOURNALIST: Minister, at the moment wool, meat and wine is being held up on the East Swanson Dock, you said that the Government would at some point intervene. At what point would you intervene?

REITH: The point I make is that, we require people to observe the law, as to the legal moves that are going to be taken in the next week or two, well that's essentially the first responsibility of the employer. I presume that they will indicate what action they're going to be taking today or tomorrow. So we will await developments. but clearly it's very important that the union return to work at East Swanson Dock as it has no entitlement to be taking industrial action and the Workplace Relations Act makes that very clear, but the first responsibility is with the employer.

JOURNALIST: You said basically their action at the East Swanson Dock was actually political and that's outside the legitimate Act and under the Workplace Relations Act.

REITH: The Coal and Allied decision of the full bench sets the framework for industrial action and the criteria for section 127 applications and based on the full benches prior statement about what you can do and what you can't do it seems to be quite clear that this action is unauthorised it and would attract a return to work order from the Commission.

JOURNALIST: You said the Government itself was looking at possible avenues tor legal action what might that involve?

REITH: Well we have a team of lawyers in place and we monitor the issues everyday. We will consider the issues as they arise. We have on other disputes, at other times before the Commission, made submissions, appeared. We've got no immediate plans in the next twenty four hours to take any legal steps but, I mean it is always an option which is under active consideration.

JOURNALIST: What action could you take against the ITF. You were flagging in there something that the Government could do on an international scale?

REITH: I'm not saying for the obvious reason I have no intention of flagging any detail as to what action we might take.

JOURNALIST: What's your response to Mr McGauchie's almost call to arms by employers around Australia, won't we end up with industrial anarchy?

REITH: I think all that Mr McGauchie said that employers should use the law to promote productivity in their businesses and the bottom line for that is that employees can enjoy higher pay. If that's a call to arms, good on him.

JOURNALIST: Just on the eight dollar wage rise, what's the definition of low paid workers? Which people would the Government be arguing for, should be getting that wage rise?

REITH: Essentially, without going into the details of it, we think that there should be a cut off. We think that the wage increase should be focussed on those who are on low incomes. I would be happy to show you, it's being lodged today so the full case will be available for you but in essence the policy approach that we take is that there should be a cut off, that the Commission should focus on the low paid and therefore some cut off is appropriate. We argued for that last year, we're putting, a similar submission this year although we've got a more defined cut off this year.

JOURNALIST: ...the people who can't get it through enterprise bargaining...(inaudible)

REITH: Well basically we want to encourage people to enter into agreement making to provide the trade-offs in productivity that can give people higher pay. That's the whole idea.

Thank you.