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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (20 October) . . Page.. 3403 ..

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (5.00): Mr Kaine has sought my legal opinion. It is that I concur with the Government Solicitor's advice and Mr Berry's motion changes absolutely nothing because of the course of events outlined earlier. I refer members to the terms of the letter I tabled of 20 July 1999. I will come back to that in a minute. I was going to raise a point under standing order 46, but, because of the amendment, I think I can incorporate it into my contribution to the debate. I am a little bit annoyed with Mr Berry's comments during the dispute - indeed, Ms Tucker made them, too - that the Government was picking on lowly paid workers, that the Government was picking on a group of middle-aged women. I take great offence at that. The Government has a duty to uphold the law. If a department is upholding the law, a Minister and, indeed, a government have a duty to agree with it and ensure that due process is followed, which is what occurred here.

Might I say that Mr Berry was wrong in saying that nothing was done in relation to upgrading the bursars. Once the issue got to the stage of being a bit of a dispute and a meeting was arranged with me, I found out that, in fact, there had been some movement in this matter in that a number of bursars had already been put on higher duties. I am not too sure, but I think they were acting in positions pending a decision on the claims which had been put in by the parties. But there were some bursars who were actually on higher duties pending an upgrade. It was not a big number, but they were there. Mr Berry, I assure you that it is absolute nonsense to speak of picking on a small group of defenceless workers. I do not think that it would be appropriate for any government to do that. That would be a quite improper way of going about it. Governments have to be consistent, whether they are dealing with a small group or a big group.

Mr Berry said something about the bursars running a surprisingly good campaign. I did not agree with the bursars going out and not doing their duties. It was put to them that, if they did not perform the duties in the duty statement dated 7 August 1999, the department would have no choice but to indicate that they would not be paid. What occurred then, of course, was that some bursars - it ended up being 29, I understand - decided to walk out and strike. That was their right. That is fine. I suppose some of them could have said, "No, I am not going to do the duties, but I will stay here and not get paid", but that did not occur. They took action. They were not going to perform the duties as directed and, knowing what would occur, they went out and were not paid.

Mr Berry said that, through the union, they would get strike pay. It is not necessarily the case that they would be fully compensated for their actions, but they took industrial action. They took industrial action in accordance with the Industrial Relations Act.

Mr Berry: They do not get strike pay.


: You said that they did. Industrial action includes a ban, limitation or restriction, and such a course of action was followed. During the dispute, I said on a number of occasions that I would like the bursars to go back to work and perform their duties so that they could be paid and we could go through the various points that had been raised in a sensible manner and look at whether an upgrade should take place.

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