|Issue No 6||26 March 1999|
Labor's IR Promises
Read the full ALP Industrial Relations policy. Only on Workers Online!
Working together for a secure, fair and productive future
The industrial relations system developed by the Carr Labor Government stands in stark contrast to the Howard/Reith model supported by the NSW Opposition.
In 1995, the Carr Government brought employers and employees together to develop a system where conflict is minimised and reforms can be achieved quickly and effectively to meet changing work conditions. Guaranteed minimum conditions and family friendly practices are built into agreements.
The NSW industrial relations system enjoys the support of the majority of employers and employees. In February this year, the Coalition agreed: "The state system ... has the support of most employers and the support of the labour movement, and by and large, it's delivered good results for the people of New South Wales. " (NSW Opposition industrial relations spokesman, Chris Hartcher ABC radio, 8/2/99).
Industrial disputes are at record lows with only 67 days lost per 1,000 workers, below the national average of 71 days. In the 12 months to October, 1998 Victoria which handed over its system to the Howard Government recorded the worst record in Australia, losing 130 days per 1,000 workers due to strikes.
At a time of great change in the workforce, NSW has the most stable and responsive system in the country.
Despite the recent public endorsement of the Carr Government's industrial relations achievements, the NSW Opposition will either hand over our system to the Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Peter Reith or replicate his laws in NSW.
This has been the Opposition's consistent position. They have promised to abolish the NSW industrial relations system and strip back conditions. To quote the Opposition in Parliament when the Carr Government was introducing its industrial relations laws: "Australia should adopt a single integrated industrial relations system ... The Coalition parties are opposed to this legislation; the Coalition parties will resist this legislation; and, upon attaining office in 1999, the Coalition parties will repeal this legislation." (Hansard, 4/6/96). Despite their recent statements to the contrary, a NSW Coalition government would:
Dismantle employment rights.
Remove the minimum conditions set by the Industrial Relations Act 1996 which prevent employees being disadvantaged by enterprise bargaining.
Limit the powers of the Industrial Relations Commission so that it cannot function effectively as an independent umpire.
Ignore equal rights for women.
End the unprecedented harmony achieved in NSW between employers and employees.
Our community will find itself suffering from an increase in social dislocation with a widening gap between "the haves" and "have nots" and the creation of a working underclass.
The Industrial Relations Act 1996
Labor's Industrial Relations Act 1996 is the cornerstone of industrial relations in NSW.
On gaining office, Labor repealed the Greiner Government's 1991 Act which was condemned by employers and employees as highly legalistic and technical which led to a gross waste of resources on appeals and points of law.
The 1991 Act resulted in ineffectual enterprise agreements and the removal of basic award rights and minimum standards.
The Labor Government brought together the peak employer and employee groups and after extensive consultation introduced a new, practical, broadly supported industrial relations model.
The tripartite approach has been the foundation of industrial relations harmony in NSW and has the support of the majority of employer and employee bodies.
Links enterprise agreements with the award system.
Applies the "no net detriment" test which ensures no enterprise agreement can, in the aggregate, deliver worse pay and conditions than the relevant award.
Requires that awards be reviewed at least every three years to ensure they remain relevant, fair and flexible.
Ensures an active role for an independent Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).
Eliminates excessive legalism.
Encourages a non adversarial approach with greater emphasis on conciliation and agreement.
Integrates the Industrial Court with the IRC so that a single, cost effective and independent commission is able to deal with questions of law, enforcement, conciliation and arbitration in one proceeding, eliminating excessive litigation.
Allows for an effective system of sanctions for breach of agreements or awards with the imposition of penalties as a last resort.
Working in partnership
The Industrial Relations Consultative Committee (IRCC) is the peak consultative body which advises on industrial relations in NSW. The committee meets regularly so that employer and employee concerns are constantly monitored and reforms can be introduced when required.
The IRCC is chaired by the Minister for Industrial Relations and has representatives from the major employer and employee groups.
The Industrial Relations Act 1996 and the IRCC are the key to NSW's harmonious and flexible industrial relations environment. The overwhelming majority of employer and employee groups support the NSW industrial relations system. They agree that there should be decent minimum standards of wages and conditions and an independent umpire (the NSW Industrial Relations Commission) with sufficient powers to properly resolve industrial disputes.
Work and family strategies
In March 1996, the Carr Labor Government established the Women's Equity Bureau to investigate the pay and conditions of women workers and to develop strategies to ensure family friendly workplaces.
The foundation of the work and family strategy is the IR Act 1996 which allows for innovative enterprise bargaining.
Since the introduction of the Act, nearly 25 percent of enterprise agreements have contained:
Changes to core working hours.
Flexible starting and finishing times conducive to caring for children and/or elderly or sick family members.
Job sharing under the part time provisions of the Act.
Return to work on a negotiated part time basis for women returning from maternity leave.
Employer sponsored child care.
Working from home when a family member is ill.
In Labor's 1995 document, Industrial Relations Policy for the 1990s, the government made a commitment to eliminate the wage gap between male and female workers and make sex based discrimination in over award conditions unlawful.
The Carr Government's 1996 Act removes deficient and outmoded equal pay provisions. The idea of "equal pay", which previously focused only on rates of pay, was broadened to incorporate all forms of remuneration.
The Industrial Relations Commission must now ensure that awards provide for equal remuneration and conditions of employment where the work being undertaken is of equal or comparable value.
To achieve further progress towards pay equity, the government created a taskforce to investigate the factors associated with undervaluation of women's skills and equitable access to all forms of remuneration. It brought together experts from a variety of employment areas, including senior representatives of peak industrial organisations, public sector agencies and experts in the field of women's pay. The principal recommendation of the taskforce was that the Minister make a reference to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission on work value.
In November, 1997, the Carr Government requested the Industrial Relations Commission to conduct an inquiry into equal pay. The commission's recently released pay equity report endorsed the Act's ability to deal with equal pay and supported the central role of the IRC with evidence clearly establishing that centralised industrial systems narrow the pay gap between men and women.
The Commission found that remedying long standing undervaluation of women's work will not damage the economy. Indeed, it found that removing discriminatory pay rates on a case by case basis will produce positive economic outcomes for women and the broader community and could reduce reliance on welfare support.
To quote from Her Honour Justice Glynn's findings: there will be a better allocation of resources in the economy which is likely to lead to higher levels of productivity ... such an outcome is in the interests of everyone, including employers." (vol. 1, p7 1).
The Report found that there was significant undervaluation of remuneration in female dominated occupations and industries. The Report and its recommendations strongly endorsed the framework of the NSW Industrial Relations Act 1996 for its ability to deal with equal remuneration.
Privacy at work
The Carr Labor Government introduced the Workplace Video Surveillance Act 1998 prohibiting secret taping of employees in the workplace without court authorisation.
Secret video surveillance is only legal where employers receive authority from a magistrate who is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect one or more employees are engaged in an unlawful activity.
The NSW Law Reform Commission is conducting a broad ranging inquiry into privacy and electronic surveillance and further reform in this area will be guided by the report.
The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission says more people die as a result of workplace injury or illness than on the roads.
The Carr Government has recognised the human and economic costs of unsafe work practices and worked in partnership with industry to encourage safe work,
The Carr Labor Government has:
Doubled maximum penalties for breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1983, from $250,000 to $500,000.
Increased the number of safety inspectors from 254 to 270.
Established industry specific work safety policies.
Launched NSW's first work safety advertising campaign.
Established an Upper House enquiry into occupational health and safety.
Doubled fines and included imprisonment for compensation fraud.
Established the Workers Compensation Advisory Council (peak employer and employee groups) when it was discovered, on gaining office that the Workers Compensation Scheme had suffered a nearly $1 billion blow out in costs under the then Minister for Industrial Relations, Mrs Kerry Chikarovski.
Reversed the run down in cashflow with the scheme now experiencing a $215 million surplus cash flow and assets of approximately $5 billion.
Established the workers compensation resolution service to reduce litigation resulting in substantial savings to the scheme.
As with the IR Act 1996, achieved extraordinary consensus with employers and employees as evidenced by the joint press release issued in January, 1999 by the Employers' Federation and the Labor Council expressing support for the government's reforms to workers compensation.
Dust Diseases Legislation
In November, 1998, the Carr Government introduced historic legislation for dust disease sufferers which:
Lifted the bar on general damages being payable to a deceased claimant's families.
Dispensed with the need to take evidence from gravely III people before they die.
Minimised litigation by allowing evidence to be used in multiple hearings.
The legislation was hailed by the Asbestos Disease Foundation of Australia who described it as an "historic victory". The president, Ms Ella Sweeney said: "This will mean the end to bed side hearings with victims of mesothelioma, thus the last few weeks of their life will be spent with their loved ones as it should be. They can now know their families will be looked after when they're gone."
Approximately 120 people die from asbestosis and mesothelioma each year. The disease typically has a long latency period 20 years is not unusual and once diagnosed there is no cure, with death usually occurring in 12 18 months.
The Coalition vigorously opposed the legislation after being lobbied by the asbestos companies and even sought to reduce existing rights. Despite this, the legislation was passed by Parliament.
The Carr Government's plans for the future
Work and family strategy
The Carr Labor Government in its second term will:
· Build and promote successful family friendly practices such as those developed by the NRMA which found its strategies, including employer sponsored child care, returned $8.6 million to the company over four years.
· Promote flexible work practices through Enterprise Agreements (EAs) such as return to work on a negotiated part time basis for women returning from maternity leave.
· Promote, through EAs, job sharing under part time work provisions.
· Focus on the success of smaller companies such as a publishing company which provides staff with facilities to work from home when a family member is sick or a pharmaceutical company which provides 10 hour shifts, nine day fortnights, 19 day months or extra paid annual leave in return for less pay per hour.
· Amend the Anti Discrimination Act to include family responsibilities. This will recognise that many carers, particularly women, are unfairly disadvantaged in the workforce when they try to balance work and family commitments.
· A Labor Government will make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of family responsibilities.
· Commit to equal pay for men and women as reported by the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) within the framework of economic responsibility.
· Develop a new equal remuneration principle to give greater weight to skills used in female dominated industries and carry out the other major recommendations of the IRC's report into equal pay in consultation with all parties.
· Review maternity and parental leave entitlement provisions in light of changing work trends.
· Amend the Act to give long term permanent casual workers (ie those who have worked more than two years for an employer) access to maternity leave provisions.
· Provide seminars for business on the implementation of family friendly work practices.
· Continue to undertake research into the implementation of family flexible work practices throughout the public and private sector.
Remove discriminatory provisions from the Long Service Leave Act which prevent young workers accruing long service leave.
Better protect employees' privacy rights with the implementation of the NSW Law Reform Commission's recommendations on electronic surveillance.
The second Carr Labor Government will:
Implement the safety recommendations of the Upper House inquiry into work safety.
Expand the work safety awareness campaign.
Build industry specific work safety solutions.
Ratify International Labour Organisation conventions including those involving occupational cancer, air pollution, asbestos, chemical use and mine safety so that NSW is committed to international best practice in work safety.
Outworkers in the clothing industry
Unacceptable employment conditions continue to affect the mainly non English speaking background women who often work in deplorable conditions. Typically, such workers earn only 20 per cent of the award rate of pay, and miss out entirely on other employment benefits and statutory entitlements, whilst enduring extreme job insecurity, lengthy delays in receiving payment, dangerous working conditions and sometimes harassment and assault.
A recent report to the Minister for Public Works and Services noted that working conditions have probably deteriorated in the last decade as a result of the abundance of available labour and cost pressures on manufacturers (Reforming Homework, May 1998). Evidence presented to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission confirmed this finding, and also highlighted the prevalence of family members, including young children, doing clothing outwork, even at times using specially crafted child size industrial sewing machines.
It is estimated that in NSW there is a work pool of some 50,000 clothing outworkers, assisted by as many as 20,000 unpaid family members (Reforming Homework, 1998).
The Carr Labor Government is developing a far reaching approach which is influenced by the extremely successful US "No Sweat" campaign, and which builds on existing government, industry, union, church and community
initiatives. It encompasses a wide cross section of interests, including a significant sector of the clothing industry itself and ethnic communities whose members make up most of the industry.
In the second term, a Carr Government will:
Introduce a new Act, and other legislative amendments which will focus greater responsibility on companies at the top of the clothing production chain to ensure that the garments that they supply are made in accordance with NSW labour standards. Manufacturers, retailers as well as sub contractors will play an increased role in monitoring the practices of their suppliers, significantly increasing the pressure on compliance in the industry.
Establish an Outworkers Protection Agency to monitor and discipline those who exploit outworkers.
Conduct a public relations and consumer education campaign to mobilise community purchasing power to reward ethical companies and to motivate recalcitrant ones. The campaign will aim to officially recognise industry leaders who promote compliance with State industrial laws by taking the initiative and responsibility for ensuring the workers who produce the garments they manufacture or sell are paid industry awards rates.
Conduct an education and retraining campaign for outworkers.
Continue enforcement activity as a high priority by the DIR and WorkCover to encourage and monitor compliance.
Increase distribution of information in the ethnic community media.
Appoint two bilingual inspectors with either a Vietnamese or Chinese background.
Interview: Jeff Shaw - Keeping the Peace in NSW
We talk to the Carr Government's best minister about his plans and aspirations for a second term.
Unions: Labor's IR Promises
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Review: Rats in the Ranks
This Australian political masterpiece about the battle for power in an inner-city council is well worth going back to.
Campaign Diary: It's Time For a Real Labor Government
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005