Labor prepared to change Fair Work bill

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard is set to change a number of aspects of the Government’s new Fair Work IR regime as the Government attempts to steer the legislation through the Senate.


Gillard met yesterday with the senators that hold the balance of power, including Greens leader Bob Brown, Stephen Fielding from Family First and independent Nick Xenophon.


Following the meetings, Gillard sent an eight-page letter to the senators outlining what the Government is calling “technical amendments” to the bill.


The key changes include:


Changes to the rules around negotiating with unions for greenfield sites.
Under the original plan, employers establishing new sites or projects would need to deal with every union involved in the project. Some employers worried this could involve negotiations with up to 12 unions. Under the changes, the workplace umpire, Fair Work Australia, would decide which unions represent the majority of workers involved in the process. This should reduce the number of unions involved and speed up project approval times.


Changes to laws regarding the unions’ use of employee information.
The Government says unions need access to staff records to investigate breaches of workplace agreements, but employer groups had been concerned that unions would use personnel data for other purposes, including drumming up membership. Gillard now says the use of employee data will be restricted.


Increases to Fair Work Australia’s power.
The industrial umpire’s powers appear set to be strengthened. It will have the ability modify old agreements when a business is bought or sold and will also be given more power to ensure employees pass a “better off” test under new pay deals.


More power for unions on flexible work arrangements.
Unions look set to win the right to appeal to Fair Work Australia if an employer rejects request for flexible work clauses to be inserted in a workplace agreement.


The full amendments are expected to be released next Monday, although debate on the bill will begin in the Senate today.


Mike Preston, an industrial relations specialist with Workplace Express, says the changes mainly involve “tinkering around the edges” and do not go to the heart of the bill or Labor’s IR philosophy.  


Preston expects the bill to pass the Senate relatively easily. “Nobody wants to be seen as the party that kept WorkChoices,” he says.


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