||Issue No. 288||04 November 2005|
Interview: Public Defender
Legal: Craig's Story
Unions: Wrong Way, Go Back
Politics: Queue Jumping
History: Iron Heel
Economics: Waging War
International: Under Pressure
Poetry: Billy Negotiates An AWA
Review: A Pertinent Proposition
The Locker Room
Truth in Advertising
What a Woman!
It's Not Pretty
Bosses In Sack Race
John Howard's “Workchoices” give employers the right to punt anyone for “economic, technical or structural or similar” reasons. His legislation describes these broad get-out provisions as “operational”.
The Prime Minister admitted in Federal Parliament, last week, that the provisions were drafted to "clarify" a situation that arose at a Rio Tinto's Blair Athol mine, in Queensland.
What the Prime Minister didn't say was that in the late 1990s unionists at the mine were victimised through a "black list" that singled them out for termination under a redundancy process.
The skilled miners were reduced to menial tasks such as chipping weeds with a hoe, rather than using weed killer, in an attempt to force them to accept a redundancy packages, the AIRC found. They were eventually sacked.
The case was pursued by the workers under unfair dismissal provisions. After numerous cases, appeals and further appeals, most of the workers were reinstated and the case was settled with the unanimous approval of the workers.
Earlier this year, federal government flagged its intention to green light unfair sackings at businesses with less than 100 employees. The Blair Athol amendment opens the floodgates for every employer in Australia.
Griffith University industrial relations specialist, Professor David Peetz, says that this amendment would have prevented the miners from pursuing their claims.
Lawyers from Freehills, who represented mining giant Rio Tinto in the Blair Athol case, were involved in drafting the WorkChoices legislation.
Professor Peetz says that the Blair Athol amendment will give large employers, who are over the 100 employee threshold set by the unfair dismissal exemption, the same freedom to unfairly dismiss as small employers will have, provided they reorganise their affairs the right way.
"In effect a company won't be constrained from unfairly dismissing an employee so long as they can demonstrate that the dismissal was done partly for genuinely operational reasons, including economic reasons" Professor Peetz says.
"Economic reason could cover all sorts of things. It could cover replacing more expensive workers on awards or collective agreements with cheaper workers on just the four minimum standards. That would provide a genuine economic benefit to the corporation," he says.
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