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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 12 Hansard (Tuesday, 18 October 2005) . . Page.. 3779 ..

This will leave unlawful dismissal claims as an employee’s only option for redress. As opposed to unfair dismissal claims, which are heard by the AIRC on a cost-effective basis of $50 in application fees—and lawyer representation is not required—unlawful dismissals are heard by the Federal Court at an expense of upwards of $30,000 to the claimant. The Prime Minister’s pledge to give low-income earners $4,000 towards such costs is, therefore, insignificant.

Suzy, 35 years old, was a clerk at a wholesale company for over a year. She worked between 10 am and 4 pm, which suited her childcare arrangements. Suzy’s employer asked her to extend her hours to 5 pm, and when she said she could not because of the high cost of after-school care Suzy was told she had to do the extended hours or leave. She refused and she was dismissed.

Under the current system, Suzy may lodge an unfair dismissal claim for $50. Under the proposed system, Suzy will have to fork out up to $30,000. For a woman who cannot afford childcare, where is she going to come up with $30,000 to have her case heard? Where is Suzy’s choice? And where are the workers’ choices?

Under the proposed WorkChoices, the federal government wants to weaken the right of workers to collectively bargain and participate in a union. This is despite the fact that Australia is a signatory to the international agreements, particularly from the International Labour Organisation, obliging us to protect the rights of workers to bargain collectively. On average, union members, that is, 33,800 Canberrans, earn more than $125 a week more than workers who are not in unions. If WorkChoices is a simpler, fairer national system, surely an existing system that encourages higher wages and safer workplaces should be encouraged and entrenched.

Mrs Burke talked this morning about being disappointed. I am disappointed—disappointed at the federal government’s attempts to legislate the ideological lovechild of an anti-union Howard and Andrews.

Mrs Burke also spoke about arrogance. I see no greater arrogance than that of a government abusing its position to destroy a strong, vibrant union movement, with no other justification than that of ideology. Under the proposed changes, unions will have to give 24 hours written notice of their reasons for workplace visits. And employers will have the power to restrict where unions meet with their members. Unions will have no access to AWA-only workplaces. Unions will not have access to non-member records to ensure employees are being paid correctly.

The changes will also make it harder for working people to legally take industrial action like strikes while in negotiation with their employer. These will now be subject to secret ballots and can only take place at certain specified times. Workers also face fines of up to $33,000 for even suggesting during a negotiation that a clause be included in an agreement:

requiring any future agreement be a union-collective agreement;

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