The Barnett Government looks set to try and introduce WorkChoices-style changes that will affect up to 300,000 Western Australian workers.
The Government has finally released a 396 page report into the WA industrial relations system written by former Howard Government industrial relations advocate Steven Amendola. The report, which the Government has been sitting on for 14 months, outlines 193 recommended changes which, if implemented, would hark back to John Howard’s unpopular and unfair WorkChoices legislation. Recommendations in the report include the following:
• Forcing new employees to sign individual contracts and removing the right of employees to chose between an Award or a collective agreement;
• Removing protection from unfair dismissal;
• Stripping the Award system by abolishing many existing conditions provided in Awards;
• Gutting the independent workplace relations umpire making it harder and more expensive for employees and employers to access a weakened Industrial Relations Commission;
• Changes that would intimidate workers into not raising issues, including those relating to workplace safety, with their union.
Up to 30 per cent of WA employees are covered by the State system, mostly in unincorporated small business and in the State’s public sector. With the Western Australian workforce consisting of just over 1 million people, more than 300,000 people will be affected by changes to Western Australia’s workplace laws.
WHAT WILL THE STATE GOVERNMENT DO?
On releasing the report the Government has said that it intends to bring in changes to employment laws in the second half of 2011. So far, it has not yet said which of the report’s 193 recommendations it intends to implement however statements by then Commerce Minister Marmion indicate the Government is looking to implement the vast majority of the recommendations. These statements, combined with the previous actions of Liberal Governments and statements by Premier Colin Barnett supporting WorkChoices all indicate that the prospect of WorkChoices-style employment laws in WA is very likely.
In the 1990’s, Mr Barnett was a senior Minister in the Court Government when it introduced three waves of industrial relations changes that saw individual contacts introduced and minimum standards cut for many Western Australian workers. Research conducted by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training into the effects of the Court Government’s Individual Workplace Agreements (IWA’s) found that:
- 74 per cent of agreements provided no weekend penalty rates;
- 67 per cent of agreements provided no overtime rates of pay;
- 56 per cent of agreements provided an ordinary rate of pay below the award rate;
- 49 per cent of full-time, part-time and fixed term agreements absorbed annual leave into the ordinary hourly rate of pay; and
- 75 per cent of the agreements analysed were without a pay increase provision.
The Court Government’s IWA’s were abolished following the election of the Gallop Labor Government in 2001. In a speech to the Parliament in October 2007, Mr Barnett said that the Gallop Government was foolish to have done this.
The Howard Government’s WorkChoices changes closely mirrored the changes introduced by the Court Government and saw individual contracts implemented in Australian workplaces. WorkChoices saw the award safety net abolished and minimum standards eroded for many Australian workers.
While then in Opposition, key figures in the current State Government publicly supported the Howard Government WorkChoices changes, with Colin Barnett telling the Parliament in October 2007 that he, “agreed with the broad philosophy of the WorkChoices system,” and Troy Buswell telling the Parliament at the same time that he, “supported the retention of individual workplace agreements.”
The Liberals track record on employment laws, Barnett’s personal support for WorkChoices and the fact that he sought out John Howard’s WorkChoices author to write the review of WA employment laws all indicate that Barnett intends to introduce the worst recommendations of the review that will result in WorkChoices type laws for 300,000 West Australians.
IMPACT ON STATE GOVERNMENT SERVICES
More than 120,000 of the workers who will be affected by changes to Western Australian workplace laws are people employed in the public sector. This includes people delivering important public services, such as health, education, policing and child protection. It also includes people employed to protect our environment and monitor safety on our mine sites and in other workplaces.
If the State Government introduces changes to workplace laws that cut minimum standards, it will become more difficult to attract and retain people in our public sector, particularly as we enter a new resource boom, and the quality of important public services will deteriorate as a result.
This deterioration in public services will be particularly harsh, coming on top of budget cuts already implemented by Mr Buswell when the Liberals came to power. WA’s economy is booming and our budget is in surplus – we are a wealthy state that can afford the best quality public services. Our Government should be investing in our public services and the people who provide them, not making it harder to keep good people in the public sector and ordering arbitrary budget cuts that affect the quality of our services.
WHAT WE ARE CAMPAIGNING FOR
UnionsWA will run the No WorkChoices in WA campaign until the State Government guarantees that it will:
• Not introduce WorkChoices style individual contracts in Western Australia;
• Not erode minimum standards or the award safety net system in Western Australian workplaces;
• Maintain the role of the WA Industrial Relations Commission as the strong and independent umpire;
• Maintain protection against unfair dismissal; and
• Maintain and improve public services in WA.