||Issue No. 327||06 October 2006|
The Road to Bangalore
Interview: Cowboys and Indians
Industrial: Seven Deadly Sins
Unions: The IT Factor
Politics: Bargain Basement
Environment: An Inconvenient Hoax
Corporate: Two Sides
International: Unfair Dismissals
History: A Stitch in Time
Review: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
Feds Knew About Wage Slashing
While many observers believed Employer Greenfields “Agreements” could only apply to brand new operations, Stewart says Canberra knew they could be used to disadvantage existing staff.
"The way the transmission of business laws were changed and the introduction of these (Employer Greenfields) Agreements made this likely," Professor Stewart said.
"Together, they were intended to allow employers to do exactly as United Petroleum has done in Tasmania.
"Whether it is a good or a bad thing is another matter that depends on your point of view."
As John Howard was running a $55 million WorkChoices publicity campaign, around the themes of mutual agreement and protected award conditions, Stewart and others were telling a Senate Committee what would happen in the real world.
"In Tasmania, we have a company that's trying to exploit possibilities that are available within the WorkChoices scheme," Stewart said.
"They are changing employment conditions without the consent of the relevant workers. That is the bit that is indisputable.
"That, to me, is not an accident. It's a deliberate design element within WorkChoices.
"If Government didn't realise at the time it drafted the legislation, I would be surprised. But it certainly knew after the Senate hearings and went ahead."
Stewart says timing is the key for employers who want to trash award payments and conditions by this mechanism.
They have to get a number of elements of their corporate restructure exactly right of they will be left with the award, or agreement, they were trying to dodge.
He warned the manoeuvring had the potential to be "messy" and that Australians may never know whether United Petroleum-Norvac had got it right.
"If this doesn't come to court we may never know the full facts about whether it was legal or not," he said.
Professor Stewart is a former Dean of Law at Flinders University. He is an Australian authority on employment law and a legal consultant to Piper Alderman.
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