Page 3438 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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Under the proposed industrial relations reforms standard work weeks are up for negotiation. It is the Howard interpretation of the word. It was in 1948 that the 40-hour work week was gained, striking a balance between work and family. From 1981 to the present day we have enjoyed a standard work week of 38 hours. Gone is the government endorsed right to eight hours work, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest. Gone is the right to be fairly compensated for working away from your family on weekends. Gone is the right to annual leave to spend with your children.

Under these individual contracts our most vulnerable—young people and workers in low skill jobs—are being exploited. I do not mind a donut, but I will think twice before consuming another of Krispy Kreme’s donuts. It was recently reported that, while the Penrith Panthers were on their way to victory in the 2003 NRL grand final, Jasmin Smith was on her way to working a 16½ hour day in the Krispy Kreme Penrith outlet, without any overtime payment. Overtime rates were lost under the contract presented to Ms Smith in early 2003, a contract that also eliminated Saturday loading, uniform allowance and cut her base hourly rate. She was exploited because she was young.

It is not only young people in our society that face exploitation under AWAs. Figures from the ABS show that only some seven per cent of AWAs registered to date have provision for maternity leave and that women on AWAs earn an average of $5.10 an hour less than men. Is this really the future that we want in the ACT?

I am not alone in my limited confidence that the federal government’s changes will not decrease workers’ rights and entitlements. Minister Andrews’s own staff members here in the ACT in the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations are not convinced that the government can be trusted to act fairly towards its own employees. In the latest round of negotiations, DEWR has sought to scrap workers’ rights to take an unresolved dispute to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Rather, staff could take their dispute to an independent arbitrator appointed by the department.

Staff are rightly concerned that the department intends to establish a kangaroo court where very little is resolved. Staff members are not convinced that they would be better off negotiating away their rights to fair dispute procedures. The federal government recognises that the Australian people do not support their industrial relations changes; however, this has not led to a changing of position. Rather, it has led to the federal government embarking upon a $20 million advertising campaign to convince working people that changes to industrial relations legislation will equate to a stronger economy. The campaign falls silent on the issue of better working conditions for workers.

Is a stronger economy the real motivation behind these proposed changes? The Prime Minister’s hatred for and loathing of the union movement spans his political career. The waterfront dispute, the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry and now the overhaul of the industrial relations laws are all notches on John Howard’s belt of individualism. Let us not be fooled that the direction of the economy, and the economy alone, is the motivation for this government. It is important in any debate about these proposed changes to explore the concept that these changes will strengthen our community. On 11 July this year Prime Minister Howard addressed the Sydney Institute on workplace relations reforms. He said we needed to be more productive. He continued:

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