The Guardian 27 July, 2005

Freedom to starve

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews’ own department has found another way to undermine its Minister’s assurances on workplace rules. The department was recently outed for forcing new employees onto AWAs, while Andrews was assuring the public they were all about "choice". Now it is flying in the face of government assurances it will retain the Industrial Relations Commission as a robust dispute-settling mechanism.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations is refusing to sign an agreement with 1500 Community and Public Service Union (CPSU) members while they have the right to refer disputes to the Industrial Relations Commission.

"The Prime Minister is on record assuring Australians the Commission will have an ongoing role is dispute resolution. If that is true, why is the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations refusing access to its own staff?", CPSU spokesperson Lisa Newman asked.

"We have had the right to take serious disputes to the IRC in our last two agreements but have never used it. We see it as a backstop that puts pressure on the parties to resolve issues in the workplace.

"Without it, unfortunately, an aggressive party can simply stonewall an issue without making a genuine attempt at resolution."

The department has dragged negotiations out for 11 months already, suggesting it is waiting for the government’s new legislation which will give it greater powers to force employees onto individual work contracts (AWAs).

Canberra is committed to spreading secret individual employment contracts in preference to transparent collective agreements, enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs).

While EBA workers have been stonewalled in negotiations, some employees have been lured onto AWAs offering immediate increases.

Departmental sources say whatever the going EBA offer, the department adds approximately one percentage point to that increase if workers will sign AWAs.

"Effectively, they are trying to starve people onto AWAs", Ms Newman said.

"They have already said that the only way to get a job is on an AWA. Now they are suggesting the only way to get a wage rise is through an AWA.

"It’s an interesting take on ‘freedom of choice’."

Frustrated CPSU reps are asking the public to help push the department into negotiating in good faith.

Online protests can be sent to Andrews’ and his departmental head, Peter Boxall,
by following this link: http;//

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