Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard has introduced the Federal Government’s new industrial relations legislation, effectively bringing an end to the former government’s WorkChoices plan.
Business groups are mixed in support for the new bill, while the federal Opposition says it accepts the new legislation is the death of its former WorkChoices plan.
In Parliament yesterday, Gillard explained the new legislation – dubbed the Fair Work Bill – will not have unanimous support.
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“I’m expecting that you’ll hear from some employer representatives who say that it goes too far, you’ll hear from some union representatives who say that it hasn’t gone far enough,” she says.
“This represents a balanced approach and gives fair rights to working people.”
The federal Opposition says it will not oppose the bill, but reserves the right to make amendments following a Senate inquiry.
“The Coalition accepts WorkChoices is dead. The Australian people have spoken,” Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull says.
But the bill has received a mixed reception from business groups.
The proposal is “by and large a workable compromise,” Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout says.
“The Government had to strike a compromise between diametrically opposed positions which intensified the risks of making the wrong decisions. The Government has addressed many of AiGroup’s concerns and has put in place important protections for employers.”
But she says key issues of contention remain, “including the expansion of union rights of entry and the broadening of the transfer of employment provisions”.
The bill contains a “heavy emphasis” on employee and union rights, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warns.
“The new rights and compliance obligations will, over time, involve additional cost to employers, including non-unionised workplaces and smaller businesses,” it says.
The new legislation mandates 10 minimum conditions, or National Employment Standards.
But workers earning under $100,000 are guaranteed an additional 10 provisions, which include penalty rates. These extra provisions may be taken away through bargaining agreements, but employees must be no worse off, according to the new laws.
A new aspect of the bill is compulsory bargaining, which mandates employers must come to the bargaining table if the majority of workers want to negotiate.
But while the laws introduce new workplace standards, aspects of the former WorkChoices plan remain.
While right of entry provisions for unions have been reinstated, they must give prior notice and meetings must take place outside of work hours.
Workers will suffer a minimum reduction of half a day’s pay for action taken outside of a bargaining period, while secret ballots voting for strikes will also remain.
While individual work agreements – such as AWAs – will be outlawed, workers may retain their current individual agreement if they wish.
A new official body – Fair Work Australia – will gauge workers’ reaction to the legislation. The Government hopes to have the laws passed by early next year.
For a detailed explaination of how the new workplace regime will affect small business, see the accompanying story Workplace law changes for small business: The essentials explained