Our rights at work are worth voting for – December 2006

IR laws are technically legal but this doesn`t mean they are fair.

The High Court decision on the legal basis of using corporations powers in the constitution to implement the federal government’s IR laws confirms the extreme radicalism of the Howard government’s agenda.

This agenda is not just about a substantial realignment of power in the workplace away from employees towards employers. It goes even further. There is also a substantial realignment of power away from the states towards Canberra.

The High Court decision not only has consequences for industrial relations but also for health, opening the way for the federal government to directly exercise its power in the sector – rather than just influencing it through control of the money.

The Howard government now has the power to revamp OHS and workers’ compensation laws in the image of its IR laws.

For over a year John Howard and Kevin Andrews have been dismissive of union critiques of the IR laws saying nothing substantial has changed and the unions are ‘chicken littles’ making a fuss about nothing.

Unions have argued these laws are about changing Australian society in a fundamental way and the High Court agrees on this.

These laws give employers enormous power in determining wages and workplace conditions and will be particularly significant in an economic downturn. Already some employer groups have flagged that their members will be more prepared to take advantage of the new laws in 12 to 18 months.

All the judges on the High Court were critical of the powers given to Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, to prohibit content in workplace agreements.With this power he can declare any issues off limits to bargaining, whether in collective or individual agreements.

Effectively, the decision means that millions of workers have lost their rights.

The ACTU has clearly indicated that the way forward for union members and the millions of other Australians who oppose these laws is to intensify the campaign for a fair set of industrial relations laws and seek community support for a change of government at the federal level.

The NSWNA will also fight these indus-trial relations laws in the court of public opinion because we are convinced they are clearly detri-mental to the interests of nurses.

We cannot see the workplace conditions that give nurses power over their jobs – how they work, how often they work, how they are treated at work, how their working hours are governed – eroded without a fight.

Just because the laws are legal doesn’t mean they are fair.

NMB to publish aged care guidelines

As The Lamp goes to press, the Nurses and Midwives Board is considering new guidelines for RNs on the delegation of the administration of medications. We expect these guidelines to be published in December.

The board is considering a push from employers to have RNs exercise their power to delegate the administration of medications to other categories of care worker in an aged care setting.

These guidelines aim to give nurses a framework to understand their professional responsibilities against the backdrop of a nursing shortage.

The NSWNA believes employers have a duty of care to provide systems at the workplace that support nurses in making decisions about the delegation of the administration of medications.

Our job as a union will be to support our members and to help them make sure such systems are in place so nurses can carry out their professional responsibilities in assessing, planning and directing the care provided to aged care residents. We will also inform our members and the community of these developments in aged care.