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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (20 May) . . Page.. 435 ..


MR BERRY (5.11): I move:

That this Assembly requires the Carnell Government to mount a full and vigorous defence of the Territory's Union Picnic Day as contained in the Public Holidays Act to ensure that moves by employers to strike out this important holiday for workers and their families are defeated.

This motion is about requiring the Government to protect the laws of the Territory, and to do so with vigour. It has as its origin an amendment which was moved by Labor in the last term of the Assembly to ensure that picnic day applied for workers in the ACT. The issue of the picnic day is not so significant in this debate, but I think it is worth while dealing with the history of the picnic day just to fill in the background and to ensure that each member understands the issue.

For about 60 years we have had a single union picnic day in the ACT. It arose because of a decision in 1938 to coordinate the various union picnics into a general function organised by the Trades and Labour Council of the ACT. That picnic day survives to this day. As a result of moves by employers in the ACT, there was an attempt to knock out the union picnic day in the ACT. In the first place, this would have created an unequal situation, because blue-collar workers, low-paid workers - a large percentage of the work force - would have been refused access to this picnic day holiday, whereas public servants would have continued to enjoy their extra holiday each year in lieu of a picnic day. Of course, finance industry workers would have continued to enjoy an additional day, namely, bank holiday.

That did not faze the employers one bit. They saw it as an opportunity to take away from workers something which had existed for some time. It was a mean-spirited move which did not take into account the benefits which flowed to low-paid workers, blue-collar workers, in the private sector. It was made by lazy employers who, by attacking workers' wages and working conditions, attempted to take the easy way out to improve their bottom line. If they wished to improve their profits, it would have been far better if they had done something about their general productivity by making their organisations more efficient, rather than attack the wages and working conditions of workers, who had enjoyed the benefits of this picnic day, to one degree or another, since 1938.

Labor moved to entrench picnic day as a public holiday in the ACT by amending the Holidays Act. The Government opposed the legislation, but the goodwill of members of this Assembly prevailed and there were sufficient numbers in this Assembly to ensure that it became law. It is now law, but the employers have not given up. The matter ended up before the courts because an employer agency in the ACT advised its constituent members not to pay relevant award conditions to employees they had required to work on the union picnic day. As a result of that, a union, on behalf of its members, pursued the matter in court. The bosses lost. The bosses then appealed the matter to the Federal Court and lost again. The bosses announced some time ago that they would appeal the matter to the Full Federal Court, trying to knock off picnic day. It remains to be seen what will happen as a result of this appeal.

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