The Guardian July 26, 2000


Victoria: For a fairer system for workers

The former Kennett Liberal Government in Victoria created a two-tier 
system of industrial relations which has resulted in over 600,000 of the 
State's workers  a third of the workforce  being on the barest minimums 
of employment conditions as laid down by the federal Workplace Relations 
Act.

Now the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) has put its submission to an 
Industrial Relations Taskforce Review of the Victoria's industrial 
relations system which it says would provide the framework to build a 
fairer system.

That one-third of the workforce is on an hourly rate of pay, one week's 
sick leave, four weeks' annual leave, 12 months' unpaid parental leave and 
the right to a notice of termination.

All other conditions  overtime pay, meal breaks, time off for a death in 
the family, a limit on weekend work, severance pay  must be negotiated by 
those workers with their boss.

Kennett scrapped the State's award system, forcing workers who were covered 
by it alone into the inequitable federal legislation.

The VTHC says these workers are "scandalously disadvantaged" compared to 
the around 90 per cent of Australia's workers who are covered by 
comprehensive state and federal awards and agreements.

"It is appalling to contemplate that workers in the same industry, with the 
same skills and experience, can be employed under different wages and 
conditions", said VTHC Secretary Leigh Hubbard.

"For example, our state system allows two service stations, next to each 
other, to have totally different employment regulations. We are not talking 
about a few cents difference in hourly rates, we are talking about totally 
different conditions."

The VTHC submission calls for an independent standard-setting tribunal 
(with powers of conciliation and compulsory arbitration) that has absolute 
discretion as to the content of common-rule awards or determinations.

The award or determination system should be simple and accessible with a 
recommended maximum 40 awards.

The system should primarily provide fair and effective standards of 
employment for all workers in Victoria. Any new system must have the 
capacity to test unfair contracts.

Victoria should not duplicate the federal unfair dismissal laws, but a 
Victorian system should provide an unfair dismissal jurisdiction for public 
sector workers excluded from the federal unfair dismissal provisions.

A proposed state Industrial Relations Commission would have four main 
roles:

* Standard setting, dispute resolution and agreement making;

* Review of unfair contracts;

* An accessible and non-legalistic small claims jurisdiction in lieu of the 
Magistrates Court;

* A limited termination of employment jurisdiction.

There should be legislative support for collective agreement-making between 
workers represented by their unions and employers at a workplace, company, 
multi-employer or industry level as determined by the parties.

To counter increased casualisation the Victorian tribunal should have the 
legislated power to facilitate the provision of regular, reliable and 
secure employment.

A specialist Industrial Court should be established to hear appeals from 
the Commission.

There should be genuine freedom of association provisions, not freedom 
from association provisions.

Workers and their unions should have the right to organise, collectively 
bargain and take industrial action in accordance with international law.

"This [current] two-tier system is unacceptable in Victoria in the 21st 
century. Our proposal is for a limited return of common rule type awards 
that bind all employers in a particular industry or occupational group", 
said Leigh Hubbard.

"All matters regarding employment conditions relevant to the particular 
industry should be included and would be negotiated between employers and 
employees with the assistance of a state industrial tribunal.

"This will ensure that all workers within an industry will have common, 
basic conditions."

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