Industrial relations

A clear choice on industrial relations

The Liberal government has introduced radical and harsh industrial relations laws, designed to give employers greater freedom to unilaterally set wages and conditions. The laws also make the traditional job of unions to collectively bargain with employers very difficult.

The government has stripped back the rights of workers and their unions to their lowest level in more than a century. Employers in most industries can now refuse to bargain in good faith – and there is little workers can legally do about it.

Key features of the Liberal’s industrial relations policy

  • WorkChoices removes protection from unfair dismissal in workplaces with fewer than 100 employees.
  • Employers can refuse to bargain collectively with workers, even if all the workers want this.
  • WorkChoices reduces the power of the Industrial Relations Commission.
  • Workers can be put on Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) with just five minimum conditions.
  • Employers can make signing an AWA or individual contract a condition of employment.
  • Individual workers must negotiate conditions like overtime pay, penalty rates, public holidays and annual leave entitlements.
  • By excluding unions, the health, safety and working conditions of workers are severely compromised.
  • WorkChoices makes many ordinary union activities illegal.

Labor’s IR alternative

Labor’s industrial relations policy promises to restore the fundamentals of a fair system ripped up by the Howard government. The right to collectively bargain, a decent safety net of 10 employment standards plus 10 awards provisions and a new body, Fair Work

Australia, which will restore the role of the independent umpire, underpin Labor’s new industrial relations policy.

Key features of the ALP industrial relations policy

  • Workers are protected from unfair dismissal. In small businesses with fewer than 15 workers, protection would apply after 12 months’ employment and after six months in larger businesses.
  • Workers have the right to bargain collectively if that is what a majority of employees in a workplace want.
  • A new and independent industrial umpire called Fair Work Australia will be created to maintain fairness in the workplace and set decent minimum wages and conditions.
  • AWA individual contracts will be abolished.
  • Penalty rates, overtime pay, and public holidays, which have been stripped away under the Howard government’s IR laws, are protected by a safety net.
  • New rights to help working families balance work and caring responsibilities.
  • Workers have the right to join a union and participate in union activities if that is what they want.
  • Recognision of States’ rights to maintain an IR system for their employees.

‘Fairness test’ – new name, same old laws
The Howard government dropped the name ‘WorkChoices’ but has kept the same old unfair IR laws. The introduction of the ‘fairness test’ still fails to protect workers. Around 2.5 million workers are not even covered by the new ‘fairness test’ and receive no protection.

The ‘fairness test’ does not guarantee workers get full financial compensation for the loss of pay and conditions under Howard’s IR laws, and only certain conditions are covered by the ‘fairness test’. Redundancy pay and a say on rosters are two conditions that are ignored by this so-called ‘fair’ test.

AWAs are also only checked after they start to apply, which means employees can lose conditions before they undergo the ‘fairness test’. In the pre-WorkChoices‘no disadvantage test’, workers’ agreements were tested before they were applied, to ensure people were not disadvantaged.

The new ‘fairness test’ provides no role for the independent umpire to scrutinise AWAs.