Page 2898 - Week 09 - Thursday, 18 August 2005

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These changes will lead to poorer outcomes. What is worse, the federal government knows they will lead to poorer outcomes—more power for employers, less for employees.

MR SPEAKER: Order! The minister’s time has expired.

MR GENTLEMAN: I ask the minister a supplementary question. The minister mentioned that the coalition’s policies might affect families in particular. I note last week the Australian Industrial Relations Commission handed down its decision in the family test case. Did the ACT government have a role in the decision—

Mrs Dunne: Point of order: there is considerable preamble to these questions.

MR SPEAKER: That is a fair point. The member will come to the question.

MR GENTLEMAN: Did the ACT government have a role in the decision in this test case, and is it threatened by the commonwealth’s proposed industrial relations changes?

MS GALLAGHER: The ACT government did have input into the family test case. We joined with other states and territories in providing a joint submission, arguing for these changes. The Industrial Relations Commission’s statement on the case acknowledged that the provisions are “based to a large extent on the proposals of the States and Territories.” The decision means that eligible employees will now be able to request an extra year of maternity leave, to work part time until their child is of school age, and an additional four weeks of simultaneous, unpaid parental leave, on top of a right to four weeks simultaneous paternal leave at the birth or adoption of a child. This gives employees the potential for up to 104 weeks unpaid, shared parental leave.

Employers will have to consider the employees’ circumstances and may only refuse these requests on reasonable grounds related to the effect on the workplace or the employer’s business. These grounds can include cost, lack of adequate replacement staff, loss of efficiency and impact on customer service. Parties reached agreement during conciliation on unpaid emergency leave and communication during parental leave. Employees will also be able to use up to 10 days personal leave for carers leave, and all employees, including casuals, will be able to have up to two days unpaid leave in case of family emergency.

These changes mean that approximately 100,000 ACT private sector workers who have direct award coverage can now enjoy real options for work-family balance. Awards can be varied on application to include the new provisions and coverage may extend further if the decision flows on to certified agreements. This is a great outcome for families in the territory, however it is already threatened by the commonwealth government’s determination to undermine workers’ rights and working families. Mr Howard has already stated that the federal government will not guarantee that this decision will be protected in his coming reforms.

We challenge the federal government to ensure that critical rights, such as balancing work and family, are protected in his new scheme. Otherwise, this decision could have little effect for those employees on certified agreements and AWAs. I am deeply concerned that the capacity of the Industrial Relations Commission to hear and decide

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