Page 3449 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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One-on-one negotiations require the person who is negotiating with the boss—who is, after all, the one with the power—to be articulate, well informed and self-confident. This is not the case for many women returning to work after raising a family or women from a non-English speaking background, who are not backed by a strong union. A representative of the group says that the relationship between the “welfare to work” changes and those proposed through industrial relations should be acknowledged.

The government plans to introduce a single national industrial relations system, change the way that minimum wages are set, and scrap unfair dismissal laws for some businesses. The new so-called unfair dismissal laws may have a much stronger impact on women because they are less likely to be able to take their appeals to the Federal Court. Single parents, the disabled and the long-term unemployed will also be forced into jobs as part of the “welfare to work” regime. We are not sure that those jobs are there, mind you. I do not hear the government talking about skilling up people. In fact, the removal of the JET program to encourage single or sole parents to undertake study so that they can become qualified as nurses has been cut under the “welfare to work” reforms.

Working mothers are more likely to be taking part-time or casual positions and they are also more likely to need the sick and family leave provisions that are going to be stripped away. That means that children and whole families will be disadvantaged by these changes. The Greens believe that workplace laws should be fair and protect all workers from unjust treatment, and that is not what these laws will do.

In closing, Mr Speaker, I want to commend the ACT government. The government has a role to play, too, in respect of employment in the public service and also in the community sector. I want to commend the government on its setting up of the community taskforce process, which is currently negotiating portability of long service leave and working towards a template agreement for reasonable wages across the sector. Wage indexation is on the agenda for next year. Of course, we all know that people in the community sector are paid much less for equivalent work than people in the public sector; so this is not before time.

Over the years, governments have tended to cost services on the basis of a minimum number of staff positions at a reasonably low wage for award levels, so this is an area of some concern. Nonetheless, while recognising that this is not just about the federal government, I fully support today’s motion about the proposed changes to the federal industrial relations laws.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs, and Acting Minister for Education and Training) (11.58): Mr Speaker, this is a particularly important motion for debate and discussion. I think, in fact, there is potentially almost no more important issue facing certainly workers and families in Australia than the federal government’s assault on workers. We need to look at the context and some of the implications of what it is that the federal government is seeking to do through its so-called industrial relations reform.

We have to accept and we have to acknowledge—and all Australian should acknowledge it—that what the federal government has set out to do very calmly and very deliberately

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