Page 3437 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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government has failed to consult with the ACT government, as well as with the other state and territory governments, on these proposed laws. Why? Perhaps they feel that this lack of consultation with state and territory ministers, and with the community, is consistent with negotiations under the proposed changes.

It is shameful that the federal government has sought to ignore the feedback of the ACT government. It is disgraceful that they ignore the comments and concerns of ACT workers. Sixty per cent of those polled by AC Nielsen in July this year were opposed to the federal government’s proposed industrial relations changes, with a further 19 per cent unsure. Working people are concerned that the results of over 100 years of worker struggle will be lost forever and, in its place, a system that pits worker against worker, scraps unfair dismissal protection and forces workers into contracts with reduced leave entitlements and penalty rates. Twenty-one per cent is not a mandate.

I bring to this Assembly’s attention a number of recent media reports about what to expect under the future buy and sell system of negotiations. On 16 August it was reported that the Office of the Employment Advocate was endorsing individual contracts for customer relations workers who reduce sick leave to just five days per annum, and cancelled out any form of paid bereavement leave. When questioned by ABC radio over the drastic halving of personal leave entitlements, Minister Andrews stated that workers had decided to trade these entitlements for increased wages. He believes that families “want flexibility in relation to some of these things”. Flexibility was again the theme driving creative means of wages payment endorsed by the Office of the Employment Advocate. The OEA website pays tribute to an Australian workplace agreement that supplements salary with “an allowance of one free video rental per week to the value of $6”—not even a DVD.

It was in 1900 that the workers in this country fought for the right to be paid in money. Times are a changin’ when what once was rum is now the latest in romantic comedy. Joan’s story is another example of the flexibility we apparently strive for. Joan had worked as a cook for nearly 10 years, from early morning to lunchtime Wednesday to Saturday. Joan’s employer handed her an individual contract to look at overnight and told her that, if she refused to sign it, she could look for another job. The contract provided no sick leave or annual leave, no public holiday penalties, and she would have to be available, on call, seven days a week until 10 pm. For refusing to sign, she was dismissed. Clearly these contracts are forced onto workers whose only choice is between a boss’s contract and unemployment.

Under current legislation Joan has the right to pursue an unfair dismissal claim through the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. She also has the right to ask that her union represent her on matters relating to her claim. With the introduction of the proposed industrial relations laws the federal government will be legislating to exempt businesses that employ up to 100 employees from unfair dismissal laws. The federal government claims that there is protection for workers who are terminated on grounds such as race, colour, sex, union membership, pregnancy and so on. Are the instigators of such widespread change so naive as to believe that an employer will single out a reason for termination? I think not. This is clearly another example of the federal government’s vision of flexibility.

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