Unfair dismissal changes slated for mid-2008

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The existing unfair dismissal regime – including the exemption for small businesses – is likely to stay in place until mid to late 2008, under a timetable for the introduction of Labor’s industrial relations changes set down by new minister Julia Gillard.

Gillard says Labor’s promised abolition of the exemption on unfair dismissal laws for businesses with fewer than 100 employees will be implemented in the second of its two tranches of new workplace relations laws.

Business groups were concerned that the unfair dismissal changes would be contained in Labor’s first IR reform law, a package of transitional reforms likely to be introduced into Parliament when it first sits in February 2008, because that would have left little time for promised consultation.

But the transitional laws, which Labor will begin immediate work on after being sworn into Government by the Governor-General this morning, will set a deadline for no new AWAs, put in place Labor’s more extensive list of protected employment conditions and kick off the process of award rationalisation.

Meanwhile, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence has urged that businesses should respect the election result and not try and “get in quick” to rush new AWAs into place before the laws are changed.

Master Builders Association legal counsel Richard Calver says Gillard’s timetable is to be welcomed as “an orderly timetable for change”.

“It’s very good the Government has rejected calls from the union movement for no more AWAs to be executed after 1 January 2008,” Calver says. “And we’re very appreciative that she’s announced there will be an extensive consultative process, which will be very important if the changes are to be understood and properly implemented.”

Calver says the ACTU’s Lawrence’s comments on AWAs ignored the fact there was often a mutual interest in having them in the workplace.

“It’s not an employer-driven matter. The process of making AWAs involves genuine agreement with between workers and employers, so if genuine agreement exists it should be allowed to be manifested,” Calver says.

But other employer groups take a different view. Australian Hotels Association director of national affairs Bill Healy says business needs to recognise that the world has changed.

“I think if you were to rush and sign people up, all you do is give the Government ammo to show we’re not always acting in good faith,” Healy says. “The world has changed, but what I wouldn’t want to see is their commitment to come up with sensible transitional arrangements be undermined.”

The more important issue, according to Healy, is that both business and government take the opportunity to talk about the how to create an industrial relations system that will best serve our changing “post-industrial” economy.

“We need to recognise that 80% of the Australian economy is devoted to services, so it would be a mistake to make laws solely for the older industries– the farmers, miners and manufacturers. The needs of the services sector differs greatly from the more traditional groups that have a big influence on policy,” Healy says.


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