IR SHORTS

Docked a week’s pay for refusing overtime

In the latest WorkChoices atrocity, Melbourne electrical parts manufacturer, Heinemann Electric, docked their employees a full week’s pay because during that week the workers banned overtime.

The overtime ban was imposed in an effort to secure employee entitlements under a new enterprise agreement.

Freehills – the law firm that helped write the federal government’s new IR laws – advised the South African-owned company that refusing overtime amounts to industrial action and therefore the workers cannot be paid for the 38 hours work they did.

Both John Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews supported the actions of Heinemann Electric in refusing to pay the workers.

‘I make the point that this in no way arises from the operation of WorkChoices because there has been a prohibition on the payment of strike pay in Australian law for 10 years,’ John Howard told parliament.

Unions were incredulous that workers could be accused of striking, despite working a 38-hour week.

‘These workers were not on strike, John Howard – they were at work. It is outrageous that ordinary Australian workers should be docked pay for hours they have worked,’ said ACTU Secretary Greg Combet.

‘This interpretation of the law by a company that helped draft it clearly indicates the intent of the Howard government in plunging employers and employees into outright warfare and shows that management in this country now has the upper hand,’ said Dean Mighell of the Electrical Trades Union, representing the workers.

Labor backs stronger collective bargaining rights

Labor leader Kim Beazley has released a policy aimed at strengthening collective bargaining rights in the workplace. Under the policy if an employer objected to a collective agreement the matter would go to the Industrial Relations Commission.

If the Commission found a majority of workers were in favour, it could order collective bargaining negotiations to commence.

John Howard condemned the policy and argued for the rights of the employer, saying Labor’s policy ‘would restrict the right of Australians to run their own businesses in the way they think fit.’

Veil of secrecy on AWAs too

Academics accused the federal government of blocking access to databases of AWAs and collective agreements once freely available on the internet.

‘There’s no way any more for anyone external to the government to critically analyse what is going on with AWAs,’ said Gillian Considine, from the University of Sydney Workplace Research Centre.

This was backed by another well-known academic, Professor David Peetz of Griffith University, who said the federal government’s Office of the Employment Advocate had barred access to collective agreements which had once been available online through WageNet.

It’s not in the public interest for the public to know

The release of key documents used to develop the federal government’s IR laws has been blocked by the Prime Minister’s office because they would lead to ‘speculation about future workplace reform’, according to The Australian newspaper.

The Australian had asked for the documents under Freedom of Information laws but was stymied by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary Peter Shergold, who said it was contrary to the public interest to release the documents.

‘Workplace reform legislation is now in the public domain and disclosure of the working documents may divert attention away from the actual legislation to a discussion of the options … later discounted,’ he wrote.

Both John Howard and the government’s number three, Nick Minchin, have both signalled that more workplace reform can be expected.

‘Either the documents contain further evidence that the economic argument for its legislation doesn’t stack up or it canvasses the unfinished business the government has in store for Australian workplaces in the future,’ said the Opposition’s industrial relations spokesperson Stephen Smith.