IR Shorts

Cap employers’ pay, says ACTU

If the High Court upholds the federal government’s new IR laws, a future Labor government could use the same legal avenues to put a cap on chief executives’ salaries and directors’ fees, argues ACTU Secretary Greg Combet. Business chiefs – the principal cheerleaders of the federal government’s workplace changes – argue that the market should determine CEO salaries.

Government’s lawyer: ‘protected by law’ is a joke
Anthony Longland, a partner with Freehills, one of the law firms that drafted the federal government’s IR laws, has admitted the protected conditions for workers were really ‘smoke and mirrors’. According to The Australian, Longland also warned employers to watch competitors who abolish penalty rates and allowances. ‘They might be able to get an advantage over you in terms of labour costs,’ he said. A senior Freehills lawyer was seconded to Canberra for six months to help write the laws.

Workers docked pay for raising money for dead comrade
25 workers who stopped work for 15 minutes to take up a collection for the family of a building worker, Christos Binos, who was crushed to death by a concrete slab on a Victorian construction site were docked four hours’ pay ‘for taking unprotected industrial action’ – illegal under the government’s new IR laws. The construction union said the employees did not blame the employer, which had no choice under the law as it was liable to a $33,000 fine and the prospect of losing future government contracts.

Employers told, ‘blame government’
Despite the overwhelming evidence that the new federal IR agenda has been wholly conceived and sponsored by the business lobby, employer organisations are urging their members to shift the blame for the new industrial relations laws onto the Howard government. An article published on the Australian Business Limited website advises: ‘Blame the Government will be a popular strategy. If an entitlement has been removed by law, tell employees that you had no option but to get rid of it because that is what the law required you to do.’

Iemma flags new public holiday
The Iemma government is considering an eleventh public holiday to compensate workers who stand to lose a day off under federal workplace laws. Up to a million NSW workers are set to lose holidays that are set out in awards but no longer protected by law. ‘Anything snatched off people by WorkChoices we’re going to do our level best to reinstate,’ NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca told the Daily Telegraph.

ALP to abolish foreign apprenticeship visas
The ALP says it will abolish the Coalition’s foreign apprenticeship visas if elected. Kim Beazley said the Howard government had the immigration balance wrong, and that the Trade Skills Training Visa introduced last November gave apprenticeships to unskilled migrants rather than young Australians. He said the foreign apprenticeship visas were pitched at regional areas across Australia, where youth unemployment was high.

Low-paid women and casuals set to lose Super rights

One in seven working women could be left without rights to superannuation under new proposals by the federal government to lift the minimum earnings before employers must pay super from $450 to $800 a month. Labor’s spokesperson on women, Tanya Plibersek, told The Australian this would exacerbate an already existing problem particularly for women already on a low income while they are raising children and only working a few days a week.

Independent Contractors Act the next IR onslaught

Not content with the wide-sweeping power they have given business through the new federal IR changes, the Howard government is now proposing further laws that will allow employers to escape their responsibilities to workers.

The proposed Independent Contractors Act will allow more employers to avoid paying entitlements to people who are called ‘contractors’ but are essentially employees.

A recent University of Melbourne study found that up to 400,000 workers currently classified by the Government as ‘independent contractors’ are actually employees that do all their work for the one employer.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow says surveys of independent contractors have found that around one third are people who could not find permanent work, and three quarters believe that independent contractors are simply used by employers to avoid their obligations to staff.

‘The fact is that many so-called independent contractors would prefer to be permanent employees receiving a decent wage and standard job entitlements such as paid leave, superannuation and access to workers compensation,’ she said.