Page 4839 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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Workers’ entitlements

Debate resumed.

MR SPEAKER: Before I call on Mrs Burke to continue her remarks, I wish to say that at the conclusion of question time, Mrs Burke raised an issue under standing order 113A. Standing order 113A is fairly specific. It requires that all non-executive members have at least one question, and they did so.

Mrs Burke: On that ruling, Mr Speaker, if I may: that has been left wide open. It says “at least one”. It does not say that you cannot ask more than one.

MR SPEAKER: Of course, but the Chief Minister asked for the call.

Mrs Burke: I believe that I was on my feet first.

MR SPEAKER: We will continue with the motion before the house.

MRS BURKE (Molonglo) (3.46): In the debate today on this motion much has been made of protections in the new system. Terms and conditions will not be abolished. Employees will be able to keep their conditions until they agree to new arrangements with their employer. There is no obligation to enter into a new agreement under the new system. Conditions that exist in awards will also exist in agreements. Agreements will now be able to run for up to five years, rather than the current maximum of three years.

There is much I could say about the standard for fair pay and conditions in Australia. What I will say is that, for the first time, the bill will introduce universal statutory minimum standards at the federal level. There has been much made about employees being forced into some situation they do not want to be in or in which they cannot negotiate. It will continue to be unlawful to force employees into new agreements. If a worker does not like what it is on offer, they can opt to stay under their current arrangements. That is interesting, and I know that people in this place will debate that strongly. A strong inspection service will exist to assist workers who believe they are not being paid their appropriate entitlements. So all this doom and gloom about how it is going to be the end of civilisation as we know it is absolutely wrong; it is a furphy.

Protections against unlawful termination, that is, termination for prohibited reason, will continue to apply for all employees. Prohibited reasons include: family responsibilities, union membership, discriminating on the grounds of race or gender, et cetera, and refusing to agree to an AWA. Unlawful termination cases have a reverse onus of proof. The onus is on the employer to prove that the termination was not for a prohibited, that is, a discriminatory reason.

The federal government has issued a raft of media releases setting out the facts, not the fiction, the scaremongering and the crystal ball gazing that we have heard in here today. I seek leave to table media releases.

Leave granted.

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