Unions pressure Labor to deliver on workplace promises

Eight months after a federal election that was virtually a referendum to wipe out WorkChoices, the Rudd Government has reversed some of the worst aspects of the laws but much still needs to be done to re-establish fairness in the workplace.

The Rudd Government has followed a two-track process to unwind WorkChoices and implement its own workplace relations vision.

The first stage began earlier this year with transitional laws that:

  • banned new AWAs;
  • established Interim Transitional Employment Agreements;
  • introduced a new no-disadvantage test for collective agreements and Individual Transitional Employment Contracts (ITEAs);
  • began an award modernisation process through the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

The goal of this first stage was to put in place processes to establish a new safety net of National Employment Standards and to modernise awards.

Later this year, probably in October, a more substantial industrial relations bill will be introduced that Minister for Industrial Relations Julia Gillard says will put in place the rest of Labor’s ‘Forward With Fairness’ policy that it took to the last federal election.

In this policy, Labor promised to enshrine our rights at work in law, including a right to collectively bargain. The main bill is also expected to establish the new Fair Work Australia, which would take on the work of the Industrial Relations Commission and the Fair Pay Commission.

Other important protections that unions expect Labor to deliver on, include extending remedies for unfair dismissal, protecting industrial action during good faith bargaining and allowing multi employer bargaining.

TV ads keep up the heat
The ACTU has vowed to keep Labor true to its election promises and has launched a series of TV ads to remind the public of Labor’s commitment to roll back WorkChoices.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence says it is very important the Rudd Government sticks to the policy it announced before the election.

‘We have seen the release of new National Employment Standards by the Rudd Government that will help protect the basic rights of workers.

‘This is a good step, but a whole lot more still needs to be done to get rid of WorkChoices.

‘In particular, it is essential that the Rudd Government’s new IR laws, which are due later this year, deliver on their commitment to give workers the right to bargain collectively with employers, who must act in good faith.

‘Despite the election last November, which overwhelmingly rejected WorkChoices, employers are still able to refuse to bargain collectively even if a majority of their workers want to.’

Labor announces new national employment standards

In an important initial step to roll back WorkChoices, the Rudd Government has announced a set of 10 National Employment Standards that are designed to provide a basic safety net. They regulate:

  • Maximum weekly hours of work;
  • Request for flexible working arrangements;
  • Parental leave and related entitlements;
  • Annual leave;
  • Personal/Carer’s leave and compassionate leave;
  • Community service leave;
  • Long service leave;
  • Public holidays;
  • Notice of termination and redundancy pay;
  • Fair Work Information Statement.

On top of this foundation there are also 10 ‘allowable modern award matters’ that cover:

  • minimum wages;
  • types of employment;
  • arrangements for when work is performed (including hours of work, rostering, notice periods, rest breaks and variations to working hours);
  • overtime rates;
  • penalty rates;
  • annualised wage or salary arrangements including averaging of hours (having regard to work patterns in an occupation);
  • allowances;
  • leave, leave loadings and arrangements for taking leave;
  • superannuation;
  • procedures for consultation, representation and dispute settlement.

Vox pops:
Modernise but protect our rights
Sue Sides, a midwife at Tamara Private Hospital, said a lot of people don’t understand that WorkChoices has still not been fully rolled back.

‘The feeling among our members and their families is that WorkChoices has gone away because Rudd has been elected,’ she said.

Sue said she understands there has to be changes in our IR laws and that takes time, but she still believes Labor should deliver on their policies to protect workers’ rights.

‘Labor is still feeling its way. I think there had to be a rationalisation of the awards, there were too many. There has to be a more sensible way. But we still need unions there to argue on the workers’ behalf,’ she said.

‘We need to keep putting pressure on Labor to deliver on their promises, going for the best possible result but still being reasonable.’
Getting cranky with the government
Caley Causley, an AiN in Aged Care, said even though she understands it will take time to reverse the bulk of WorkChoices she thinks the Rudd Government should be aware that things remain very difficult for employees in aged care.

‘People still feel very vulnerable. I have friends in different nursing homes and we’re still stuck in the same situation. We’ve still got the bosses over us. We still don’t have any control. They always say: “we’ll talk to you about that later”. They never want to talk to you as a group. The employers are still trying the same tricks they were a year ago.’

Caley said many of her colleagues are getting cranky with the Government and are understandably impatient.

‘Our jobs can be threatened now. Your job doesn’t feel safe. Tomorrow you could have nothing. The Government needs to move faster so people can feel more secure. Especially now daily living is getting more expensive.’