Nurses and workplace rights take centre stage

The NSWNA campaign during the state election has been successful in putting nurses and their workplace rights at centre stage with all political parties.

Following the election Kevin Rudd challenged the Howard government to guarantee Australia’s nurses and health care workers will not be forced onto Australian Workplace Agreements by tying Commonwealth funding to the up-take of AWAs.

The Howard government has already tied university funding to the use of AWAs.

Labor voiced its concerns that the Howard Government would seek to do the same in Australia’s hospitals.

Through Australian Health Care Agreements (AHCA), negotiated every five years with the state and territory governments, Labor fears the Howard government will seek to tie its funding of hospitals to the uptake of AWAs. The next AHCA is up for renewal in 2008.

Ninety-five percent of Australian nurses working in the public sector rely on penalty rates which make up about 40% of their pay. According to an OEA study, 60% of AWAs removed penalty rates all together.

John Howard responded by saying the government would not do to nurses what they did in the tertiary education sector. He made no mention of the fate of nurses working in private hospitals and aged care who are already exposed to the federal system.

More evidence you work harder for less on an AWA

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that non-managerial employees on a registered individual contract or AWA (3.1% of workers) continue to earn less and work more hours than those non-managerial employees on a collective agreement.

The ABS statistics show non-managerial employees on a collective agreement work, on average, 31.9 hours per week at $27.30 per hour.

Non-managerial employees on an AWA work on average, 36 hours per week at $26.40 per hour.

WorkChoices finds a home in banana council

The Howard government is linking up with conservative-run councils in Queensland to move council workers, including garbage collectors and librarians, on to the federal IR system in order to scrap penalty rates, overtime and public holidays.

Leading the charge is the Banana Shire Council in Central Queensland. It says it has legal advice that it can operate under the federal system. According to The Australian, federal workplace relations minister Joe Hockey has indicated the Howard government would support a federal court test case to legitimise the move.

The union covering council workers, the AWU, says the move is a ‘fundamental realignment of the constitution through the back door.’ It cites the legal uncertainty about whether councils are corporations and are able to transfer to the federal system.

The AWU claimed the move was not only the latest attack on workers’ rights but also another grab for power by the Howard government over the responsibilities of the states.

‘The Commonwealth can take over town planning, water supply, all the things that councils cherish, as their purview will be lost,’ said Queensland AWU Secretary Bill Ludwig.

When the minimum wage has no known minimum

The Howard government and its new body, the Australian Fair Pay Commission – established to set minimum wages – have been embarrassed by revelations there are no legally enforceable documents that set out minimum wage entitlements. If employers want to find out what the minimum wage they have to pay is, there is no government agency that can tell them.

Labor’s Workplace Relations spokesperson Julia Gillard said it was unbelievable that businesses and workers were left in the dark about their legal wage entitlements.

‘It is causing confusion in Australian workplaces, particularly for small businesses but for business generally and for individuals who just want to make sure that they are getting paid the right amount,’ she said.

She was joined in her criticism by a chorus from the business community and the union movement.