Interview: The Wet One
Bad Boss: Like A Bastard
Unions: Demolition Derby
Corporate: The Bush Doctrine
Politics: American Jihad
Health: Secret Country
Review: Walking On Water
Poetry: The UQ Stonewall
Month In Review
The Locker Room
The Legacy of 11/9
The CFMEU Race Debate #2
Keeping it Clean
Sue the Leaders?
Wrong Way, Go Back
Shame on Murray
Use or Abuse of Long Term Casuals
Speaking in Tongues
The Wet One
Interview with Peter Lewis
Given your own trade union background, what approach have you taken in your position as Shadow IR in dealing with the Union movement?
As you know I am probably the only Liberal IR spokesperson who held elected office in a trade union (Branch Sec Delegate NSW Police Association), I even hold a TUTA certificate. It was through my involvement in the NSW Police Association I gained a real insight into the role Unions play in supporting their membership and keeping members up to date with industrial matters being faced by fellow officers around the State. When a member got into difficulty and needed legal assistance the Association was there to provide advice and financial assistance for legal representation and members were aware of this. Before I left the service in 1996 I opened up the first Police Internal Affairs Branch of the Association and I believe this was significant at the time because it was located in Police Headquarters.
Unions are an important part of the social development of Australia as well as its' industrial framework. My concern with the Union movement has been where it involved itself in politics rather than looking after the interests of its members. One of the strengths of the Police Association has always been that it has remained politically non-aligned.
Like every Australian I believe in a fair go and that in many cases employees can best achieve this by being united. The fundamental principle of a fair go also extends to recognising the right of people not to be a union member if they so decide.
So how did someone from your background end up in the Liberal Party?
You can blame Frank Walker for that. It was Frank's role and approach to Police and the attitude of the Government towards Summary offences, during his term as Attorney General, that drove me to the Liberal Party. I actually stood against Walker for the federal seat of Robertson in 1993.
What is your attitude to the Abbott/ Reith approach to IR?
I don't believe that I should be involved in comparisons. I know both Peter and Tony and recognise their commitment to Federal industrial reform, however NSW has its own industrial relations system and we intend to keep it. I have my own style in dealing with both employers and employees and I will continue to operate that way.
Will you commit to maintaining the 1996 Industrial Relations system?
As Minister in a Brogden Government I would be committed to ensuring the NSW IR system delivered a productive economy with an underlying emphasis on fairness for employers and employees. I am not wedded to any model be it the 1996 Act or the 1991 Act that the '96 Act replaced.
I've always had an open door policy to Unions, employers groups and other interested parties and I am committed to maintaining this. While I acknowledge the role of unions, especially in the public sector as the representatives of a major part of the workforce, I also believe I have a responsibility to the 75% of the workforce who choose not to be a member of a union.
An effective IR system must be outcomes focussed. It cannot favour one side or the other but must seek through bringing both parties together to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. There must be a framework of guarantees for employees to prevent exploitation just as there must be a framework for employers, particularly small business to prevent intimidation.
My own observation it that there is an enormous amount of good will amongst employer and employee organisations and that the Government should seek to maintain this and set up a process facilitating agreed solutions rather than imposing them.
One of the casualties from the Howard Government's federal reforms has been the standing of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Will you commit to maintaining the powers of the NSW Commission?
The Commission is an integral part of the IR system. I know a number of the judges and Commissioners and have considerable respect for them. It was a great privilege to attend the centenary of the Commission's foundation. Australians tend to forget a lot of their history, but looking back on the role of the Commission we can see it has had great success in giving us the tolerant society we have today, through its' determined pursuit of a fair solution to IR problems. It has prevented one side or the other using its power unfairly, especially during times of economic downturn when it has defended workers rights and conditions. The Coalition will certainly be retaining the IR Commission and ensuring it has the power to carry out its historic role of assisting parties to resolve disputes and ensuring justice in cases where there has been injustice.
If we could turn to a few substantive issues of concern to the union movement. One is what your attitude would be for calls to endorse a Call Centre Code of Conduct for work that the state government out sources.
I'm aware of the ACTU's position on Call Centres, however at this time I have not received anything from the Labour Council specific to issues in NSW and would be happy to hear about their concerns. I'm interested to find out why you have had no success with the Carr Government so far, considering they run a call centre themselves at Tuggerah, the Police Assistance Line.
Do you support the regulation of labour hire?
The NSW economy is evolving all the time. The last twenty years have seen enormous changes brought about by technology and deregulation. It's important that we maintain a flexible approach if the economy is going to continue to grow and provide jobs. Against that is fundamental responsibility to prevent, as I said earlier, exploitation in the workplace.
An example of how radically things change is the 'restructuring' by the Carr Government of workers compensation. Under the Fahey Government workers had generous benefits and these were actually increased by John Fahey. The loss of benefits has been brought about by Labor Governments, first in 1987 under Unsworth (24% reduction in lump sums), then in 1997 under Carr (25% reduction) and thereafter in 2001 with the entire rewriting. Workers have suffered a major loss in their historic entitlements.
We do accept that there must be a framework in which labour hire operates. Many enterprises have a rise and fall in their labour demand and labour hire is the most effective way of filling that gap. We must ensure that labour hire is not simply a device to destroy workers rights and conditions. We will support appropriate regulations where there is a demonstrated need.
An issue of concern to many workers in IT is the ability of their boss to snoop on personal emails. What is your view of email surveillance in the workplace?
Emails have become for many an alternative to telephone calls. In recent times the rapid popularity of SMS messages is yet a further development in this form of communication. Like telephone calls, I believe emails are personal and therefore should be dealt with in the same way telephone calls are protected. However no employer can be expected to allow an employee to spend all day on the phone making personal calls and this is the same for emails. Technology is available to prevent unacceptable language or pictures being transmitted and I believe employers should have the right to place these safeguards on the workplace system.
My observation of email usage is that they are probably more beneficial to the business that telephone calls. Most emails I have seen are short and succinct, whereas a telephone call can go on for some time. One email can be sent to any number of people in the workplace at the same time, whereas an individual call would have to be made to each person using a telephone to achieve the same result. It is therefore cheaper for an organisation and results in less downtime.
Public sector wages will be up for renegotiation soon after the election. What will be your approach to these talks?
The Coalition is already on record for supporting a pay rise for nurses. We will fund, in Government, the full amount of any increase awarded by the IRC. We also recognise that other public sector employees are entitled to appropriate wage and salary increases. These will be negotiated in the normal way as their existing agreements expire or where there are no agreements within their award. Public sector employees and their unions will certainly have sympathetic hearing from me as minister. The Australian public sector is certainly among the best in the world and deserves to by paid appropriately but as yet I have not been approached by the Labor Council on this issue and I look forward the working through any claims with them. For example, the wage claim for teachers comes up late next year. In Government we would be happy to start the process of negotiation rolling quite quickly. The Police are halfway through an agreed wage rise so I do not expect to be immediately negotiating with them but I would always be happy to discuss any special problems that arise.
Can you guarantee there'll be no more cuts to or access to workers compensation benefits under a Brogden Government?
The Coalition has spoken now for some time on the need to review benefits. Throughout the community there is widespread acknowledgment of the need for comprehensive rehabilitation programs and to get workers back to work as soon as practicably possible, however, the government has done little to facilitate this. The anecdotal evidence is that employers have for some time believed the way claims have been managed has not operated in the business community's best interest. Equally employees believe there is a pressing need for a review of current benefits to determine whether injured workers are being satisfactorily covered. The question for the Coalition, therefore, is not whether further reductions are necessary but rather whether the Labor Government's reform of Workers' Compensation has gone too far.
We have already moved towards a recognition that some aspects of the reforms are not in the best interests of employees and employers. For that reason on the 3rd September this year I moved the introduction of legislation to remove recent restrictions on the ability of self-insurers to offer commutations to injured workers. We will make further announcements on our position in relation to workers' compensation as we get closer to the election.
Finally, what difference would you bring to the Industrial Relations portfolio if you win government in March?"
Having spent 16 years as a Police Officer as an employee and the past seven years as an employer has provided me with an invaluable balanced perspective of Industrial Relations issues. I believe the greatest asset I will bring to the Industrial Relations portfolio when we win government in March is the ability to negotiate an outcome without having a predetermined view that either employees or employers have more power in an employment relationship.
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