IR SHORTS

Industrial peace

A national survey of 2,170 enterprises by Sydney University’s Workplace Relations Centre found that only 3% of businesses experienced industrial disputes in the 12 months before WorkChoices was introduced in April 2006. The study also found that 64% of employers had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ relations with unions and only 4% were dissatisfied.

‘WorkChoices is driven less by concrete problems and more by ideology’, the report’s author Dr John Buchanan told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Despite low unemployment and strong economic growth, 15% of businesses had also cut staff, leading to what Dr Buchanan described as ‘smouldering discontent’ among employees concerned with job security.

AWA workers miss out on redundancy pay
Workers on AWAs employed at the South Burnett Meatworks in Queensland have missed out on tens of thousands of dollars in redundancy pay after the plant closed. Workers on a union collective agreement, however, will get their full redundancy entitlement, with some employees getting up to $19,000.

The collapse of the South Burnett Meatworks at Murgon in Queensland has exposed a major new loophole in the Howard government’s WorkChoices IR laws, with redundancy pay not protected by the laws and not covered by the so-called ‘Fairness Test’, according to the ACTU.

‘There are 230,000 workers who are made redundant each year and the increasing use of AWAs that provide no redundancy entitlement means more than a million workers over five years could be affected,’ said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

Employers sit tight before acting on WorkChoices
Asurvey by the Australian Human Resources Institute shows that a majority of human resource practitioners are awaiting the outcome of the federal election before acting on WorkChoices.

The survey of more than 1,000 members also found that HR people believe the work/life balance will deteriorate over time under the new laws. Contrary to the Coalition promise of a ‘simpler’ IR system, more than half reported it had increased their need for legal advice.

The rebranding of the federal government’s watchdogs drew ‘considerable criticism’ as a waste of time that would increase confusion. While the federal government has repeatedly said the new laws would lead to more jobs, this failed to resonate among HR practitioners. Only 20% agreed it would increase their willingness to hire, 31% disagreed and 48% were neutral.

No worries for small businesses with unfair dismissal laws
Another survey of 1,800 small and medium enterprises by Sensis has found 7 out of 10 small business operators think bringing back unfair dismissal laws would have a minimal impact on their businesses. A mere two out of ten thought it would harm business prospects.

The survey also revealed the impotency of the federal government’s so-called fairness test. Only 55% of small business owners were aware of the fairness test provisions and only 38% of these have provided employees with the work relations fact sheet – a legal requirement under the laws.

Workplace Ombudsman slow, unresponsive and ineffective
Out of 800 complaints to a Queensland government helpline from workers who were underpaid, dismissed or treated unfairly, then referred to the federal government’s Workplace Ombudsman (formerly the Office of Workplace Services), only four responses have been received back by the Queensland government.

A survey of the outstanding claims by workers by the Queensland government found that more than one in three (33.5%) were dissatisfied with the service or outcome by the Howard government’s Workplace Ombudsman.

The top three reasons the workers were unhappy with the response were:

  • The watchdog indicated the worker had ‘no claim’ but did not provide reasons;
  • The watchdog accepted the employer’s details of events without giving the worker an opportunity to respond;
  • The watchdog did not provide any detail or keep claimants informed on the progress of the matter.