Wednesday, October 12, 2005

We gotta get out of this place...

The government has finally released the detailed changes in their industrial relations reforms that they will be trying to push through in the near future. Booklet available here.

Here are a few examples of how this new system will screw over even more workers:
  • Hours of work
    From the booklet:
    WorkChoices will lock in maximum ordinary hours of work of 38 hours per week - an accepted community standard. It will be possible for ordinary hours to be averaged over a period of up to twelve months.

    Employees must receive at least the relevant minimum hourly wage as set by the Fair Pay Commission for each hour they are required to work.

    Additional payment for hours worked in excess of 38 hours will be a matter for awards and agreements.

    Sounds nice and positive, right? Wrong, if an employee is on a workplace agreement then the employer only has to pay them for the 38 hours, if the agreement says no overtime then there will be no reward for doing overtime. Not all workplaces will be like that, but there will always be a number of employers that will screw over their workers.

    A government supplied example:
    EXAMPLE
    Georgina runs a motel in Hobart. Under the relevant award, she is required to pay her employees penalty rates for work in excess of the ordinary hours of work under the award (38 hours per week). In the new system, Georgina could offer her employees a collective or individual agreement which offers a higher hourly rate of pay for all hours of work, including any hours in excess of 38 hours per week, which absorbs penalty rates for any hours worked beyond 38 per week. Her employees would have the choice to accept the agreement or remain covered by the award.

    Counter-example:
    EXAMPLE
    Georgina runs a motel in Hobart. Under the relevant award, she is required to pay her employees penalty rates for work in excess of the ordinary hours of work under the award (38 hours per week). In the new system, Georgina could offer her employees a collective or individual agreement which offers the same hourly rate of pay for all hours of work, including any hours in excess of 38 hours per week, with no penalty rates for any hours worked beyond 38 per week. Her employees would have the choice to accept the agreement or remain covered by the award, which offers no penalty rates either.

  • Unlawful Termination
    PROTECTION AGAINST UNLAWFUL TERMINATION.
    Every Australian worker, regardless of the size of the business they work in, will continue to be protected from unlawful termination.

    Unlawful Termination includes:
    - Temporary absence from work because of illness or injury;
    - Trade union membership;
    - Non-membership of a trade union;
    - Seeking office as, or acting or having acted in the capacity of, a representative of employees;
    - The filing of a complaint, or the participation in proceedings, against an employer;
    - Race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin;
    - Refusing to negotiate, make, sign, extend, vary or terminate an AWA;
    - Absence from work during maternity leave or other parental leave;
    - Temporary absence from work because of the carrying out of a voluntary emergency management activity.

    Nowhere does it say that being terminated because your boss is having a bad day is unlawful. But if you are terminated and believe it is unlawful, you are entitled to $4,000 of legal advice...
    Employees who believe they have been unlawfully terminated will be eligible to receive up to $4000 worth of legal advice. This will be based on the merits of their case if they have a certificate from the AIRC and if they are assessed as having financial need.

    So you need to jump through hoops to prove there is a case and be on the bones of your arse to get that legal advice... How many people are even going to bother?
    Unfair dismissal laws will also continue to apply to businesses with over 100 staff, though workers will need to have been employed by the company for at least six months before they can make an unfair dismissal claim.

    Is 100 employees the upper limit of how many employees a K-Mart or Target store has? I can see who will get shafted by this law the most, young workers in the range 16-21 mostly work for smaller businesses as they have the ability to give them a chance. Allowing employers that hire young workers to be exempt from unfair dismissal laws will open up some nice exploitation opportunities.
  • Workplace Agreements
    A SIMPLER AGREEMENT-MAKING PROCESS.
    To reduce delays and uncertainty in agreement-making, a streamlined process will be introduced.

    All agreements will now take effect from the date they are lodged with the Office of the Employment Advocate.

    So once an agreement has been lodged it will start to operate and people can start working under the new arrangements.

    The current complex certification process for collective agreements and the approval process for AWAs will no longer apply.

    Varying or terminating of agreements has also been simplified. New agreements can now be varied or extended up to a maximum of five years or terminated by agreement between employees and employers.

    So instead of having any agreement looked over and passed by a body looking out for workers rights, employers can start screwing over their workers immediately. You reckon an employee will have much power to reject an extension of their agreement or the termination of agreement to make way for a new one? Without the protection from unfair dismissal laws, workers will shut up and take it on the chin so as to not rock the boat. Anyone who stands up to a malevolent employer will mark themselves for the earliest termination. It doesn't matter that unlawful termination laws will protect people who refuse to sign new agreements, etc. but there are other things that aren't protected by those laws.

    What is the function of the 'Office of the Employment Advocate' anyway? The naming of government departments is starting to become quite a lot like double-speak. Orwell would be proud...
Go have a read of the booklet to see how these changes will affect you...

And I have a new personal rule: If ever you see someone smiling in a government advert, be very worried...

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