Page 3789 - Week 12 - Tuesday, 18 October 2005

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One thing that does worry me, if we go back down the track of what the ALP is suggesting in knocking these arrangements, is this: I would not like to see a situation where the rules were so restrictive that what happened in Victoria to save a company and protect workers’ jobs could not happen. That was the start of the improvements in industrial relations. Some improvements were made by the Hawke and Keating governments, obviously.

A factory in Victoria—I cannot remember the name of it—a business that had about 1,500 employees, was not going terribly well. I am not too sure what the union was, but basically the choice was: keep everyone under the current award and 10 per cent of the work force in that factory were going to be sacked. The union was comfortable with that, whatever union it was. But the employees were not. The people at the factory who were going to get sacked were their mates. They said no.

Mrs Dunne: Was that SPC?

MR STEFANIAK: I think it was. Thank you. They said, “We will take a 10 per cent drop in salary. We want to save this business. We do not want our mates to go out on the dole; they have got families.” The union was not particularly helpful there. Basically the employees said, “No, we are not going to listen to the union; stuff you; we are going to go ahead; and we are happy to take a 10 per cent drop to save this business, to make sure all of our mates stay in employment.” And that is what they did. It might have ended up in a court case, but that is exactly what occurred.

The employers kept their business and, within about a year or two after the dispute was over, it started making money. Not only did the 10 per cent of workers who would have lost their jobs keep their jobs, but everyone received a nice healthy pay increase, which was a hell of a lot more than the award wages and was something like about 20 per cent more than what they were getting; they got the 10 per cent back and a lot more, which made them better off than they were before they took the 10 per cent cut. And all their mates kept their jobs. That is a very Australian thing to do and it is a very practical, sensible thing to do.

Yes, there are bad employees, which is probably why you need simpler ways of getting rid of people, rather than having absolute dead wood clogging up the business. And there are bad employers as well. Of course you need protections in relation to that. I really cannot see much in here that would indicate that the protections are not there. There is still very much a role for unions in relation to this legislation. A lot of furphies have been put out about it.

It will be a simpler system. It will ultimately be a fairer system. It will continue to develop our strong economy. It will certainly help little family businesses that do not want to put people on because they are terrified of all the conditions and the problems if they get someone who is no good; they will be able to take on young people, take on people they otherwise would not have done, because of this system. That will benefit a lot of people in Australia who might otherwise not get a chance to get into the work force and get a career. All in all, I think this is a very positive step by the federal government and they should be commended.

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