Page 1938 - Week 06 - Friday, 6 May 2005
It is worth reflecting that the purpose of such legislation, according to parliamentary debates prior to the introduction of the Long Service Leave Bill 1955 in New South Wales, was to reduce labour turnover, provide a reward for long and faithful service and enable employees halfway through their working life to recover their energies and to return to work renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated. The issue that obviously arises in relation to this legislation is that it seems to be moving more and more away from that and in a direction that fails to recognise that principle of rewarding long and faithful service to employees. Rather, it seeks to truncate that period of time, and I suspect it is moving in a general direction away from the established basis and principles that were behind long service leave.
Those who have an interest in the history of industrial relations will be aware that in 1964 the old Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission arbitrated its first long service leave award to provide what became the standard provision for non-public service employees, which in that case was 13 weeks leave after 15 years service, with pro rata payment in lieu on termination of employment after 10 years service.
Various amendments and provisions of how entitlements should be addressed occurred through the states subsequent to that time. It is a complex area for employers. I have worked as a chief executive in a major industrial organisation and can say that it comes quite high up on the list of issues that employers raise. It would be wonderful to see a greater effort made towards simplifying methods of calculation. I was speaking the other night about this bill with someone whom I consider to be quite knowledgeable on employment arrangements. They were financially qualified, and even they had a difference of opinion with me as to the methods of calculation, because I think it is an area that defies the understanding of many payroll clerks, and even those who are better qualified.
Nevertheless, the issue of simplification is not on the table today. The issue is to extend these benefits to a greater group of employees in the private sector. As I have indicated earlier, these measures will be a cost to Canberra business. We have already seen costs incurred on Canberra business in relation to rates, with civic businesses incurring more as well. We have seen a constant string of new industrial relations obligations, all in the name of occupational health and safety or better conditions for employees. The plea I would make to the minister is: develop a better appreciation of the needs of the Canberra business community, call off the dogs for a period of time, let Canberra business get on its feet and understand that many of our businesses in Canberra are not large corporations; they are smaller businesses, they have a different financial base, they compete for contracts interstate, and they are having additional costs constantly imposed on them—not only the actual dollar cost, but also the administrative burden that is created by ensuring that they are in compliance with ACT law.
The minister chuckles at my suggestion that that is an issue, but in fact the number of prosecutions, fines and warnings that her officers, or the WorkCover officers, have issued in recent times suggest that many employers in Canberra struggle to be aware of their obligations. I certainly will not defend any employer who knowingly and willingly breaches acts that have been passed by the Assembly, but I am sympathetic, having worked with many small business people, to the fact that they often struggle to keep up with the pace of legislation in terms of the workplace. They are trying in many cases to