Page 2897 - Week 09 - Thursday, 18 August 2005

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State and territory ministers were lucky enough to have a meeting with the federal minister in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, after the federal minister had cancelled the three previous meetings that were due to be held post the federal election, to discuss with the federal minister the industrial relations changes and the impact they will have on working people around the country. The commonwealth was unable to provide state and territory ministers with any detail of its proposed laws other than to say they were being drafted, it was a serious drafting process and it would not be in a position to talk with anyone about these laws until they were introduced into federal parliament supposedly in October. This is despite the commonwealth minister’s repeated assurances to me as the ACT minister, but also to the Victorian and Northern Territory ministers, that on laws that will have immediate effect—that is in our jurisdictions as opposed to the other jurisdictions around Australia—about consultation prior to introducing legislation that will affect workplaces in those jurisdictions.

Having reneged on that commitment, which it has given numerous times—that is, by not only the current minister but also the previous industrial relations minister—the commonwealth government was unable to give us any details other than what it has provided to the media. So, after nine months of talk there is still no detail of these changes—how they are to be applied; when they are to be applied; and what process we might have to discuss these laws with the commonwealth government—other than the rather disturbing facts the government has provided to the media and comments that the Prime Minister and the workplace relations minister, Kevin Andrews, have made over the past nine months.

The ministers who attended this meeting were hopeful that we could get commitment from the workplace relations minister that no worker would be worse off under these proposals. A similar commitment was sought to that given by John Howard in 1996. We asked Mr Andrews to re-affirm that commitment. However, he refused to sign a guarantee that no Australian worker would be worse off as a result of these proposed changes and made it clear that he would not be in a position to sign that document at any time in the future.

The laws, as we have been told in general, will have immediate impact in the ACT once they are passed by federal parliament. That is, the ACT will become the guinea pig for the rest of Australia to see how these laws are applied. They will exempt 95 per cent of the ACT private sector work force from unfair dismissal laws. That means that around 100,000 workers in the ACT—juniors, casuals, apprentices, shift workers, permanent workers—will no longer have access to a low-cost, independent remedy should they be dismissed unlawfully. That makes the workplace more vulnerable, as 100,000 workers in the ACT can be sacked on the spot for no reason at all and have no access to remedy other than funding their own case to the Federal Court. I do not know how many juniors and apprentices are in a position to fund such legal action.

The changes to minimum award standards and the commonwealth’s proposed minimum standards that are being talked about will mean that professionals such as nurses could lose up to 33 per cent or around $18,000 per year from their salaries. Restaurant workers could have wages cut by 20 per cent. Hotel receptionists could lose up to $9,000 a year. Tradespeople could have a pay cut of up to 16 per cent, including the loss of payments for supervising and specialist qualifications, and cleaners could lose up to 27 per cent.

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