Page 677 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 28 March 2006

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agreement and were preparing to put the agreement to a ballot of employees and lodge it with the commission for certification. However, the deadline was missed for certification and now the parties are facing a new agreement under entirely different conditions.

This will force the parties to begin negotiations all over again, revealing how radical these changes are. It also means the federal minister Kevin Andrews will effectively become a party to the agreement with his Work Choices regulations prohibiting the parties from even discussing certain content that the federal government does not like. The employees’ ability to strike to protect their conditions is now also severely limited—and these workers are dealing with a sympathetic employer who has spoken out against Work Choices based on their experience with, in their words, “desperate measures”.

Mr Mulcahy: You won’t mind if Clive has a few more strikes.

MS GALLAGHER: This does show how quickly Work Choices will tie the hands of employers and employees alike. Here in the ACT, as I can hear the opposition interjecting, we are no different from the Salvation Army. In fact, with our current industrial dispute with the teaching work force here in the territory, if the government had not taken action last Friday to protect the teachers through this industrial dispute, teachers would have been facing individual fines if they took action—

Mr Mulcahy: You threatened them with that.

MS GALLAGHER: It’s not a matter of the ACT government threatening them. If we had not abided by the Work Choices legislation, the ACT government were facing fines of up to $33,000 per teacher who took part in industrial action. It was not a matter of threat; it was a matter of reality and what was going to happen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week. We support a work force’s right to strike; we support a right to take part in industrial democracy, even if it causes us some inconvenience, which of course a teachers strike does on a number of levels—as a politician, as the minister responsible, as a parent of someone who goes to a public school.

A teachers strike does cause inconvenience—there is no doubt about it—but teachers have the right to take part in industrial action in the case of a dispute with their employer. Because of Work Choices coming in, that right has been taken away. Their action this week, if they had taken it, would have been illegal and unprotected, and the ACT government would have been in the position of being fined under the Work Choices legislation if we did not abide by it. Similarly, teachers would have faced individual fines and the union would have faced fines.

So what we did—as usual a very sensible approach—was to take it to the commission and seek the commission’s role to conciliate, a role that has been taken away under Work Choices, again recognising the legitimate role of the independent umpire to have a view and to help parties settle a dispute when they are at loggerheads. That role has been taken away. Friday was the last day that we could access that. So what we did was to protect our work force—only for another three months as we go through the conciliation period—and the government from some punitive penalties simply because an employer and an employee are at loggerheads, currently in dispute and going through a process.

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