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IR reform - spin can't hide attack on families

By Bill Shorten - posted Friday, 14 October 2005

The advertising and marketing launch by the Howard Government this week has revealed, at last, the fundamental changes that will be forced on millions of Australian workers and their families.

Penalty rates, four weeks' annual holiday, overtime, shift and overtime allowances, meal breaks, bonuses, allowances - the basics that many Australian working families have relied on - are now up for grabs.

Make no mistake: the government's advertising campaign may try to spin this, but the changes are very radical and will reach into most Australian families in a very personal way, attacking their wages and working lives.


The promotion of the individual contract over other forms of setting wages and conditions will have a long-lasting and devastating impact on the Australian way of life and work.

Little has changed from what the Howard Government revealed months ago about their proposed changes.

The promised new protections from Howard's new world amounts to little more than delaying its start-up through transitional provisions, together with some patronising gestures, such as allowing parents to countersign the contracts of children younger than 18.

Apparently, the government caved in on this issue after unions presented case after case of exploitation of teenage workers in unfair contracts to the current Senate committee inquiry into workplace agreements.

The promise of a new employer education campaign, to be run by the Office of the Employment Advocate, is ironic considering that the same office processed many of the individual contracts that cut pay or conditions.

The revamping of the Office of Workplace Services to pick up from the Employment Advocate's failure in enforcing fair agreements is another empty gesture.


If the government was serious about enforcing legal standards in agreement-making, it would not be removing this authority from the tested and trusted umpire, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

In all, this document signals that the legislation will be a dog's breakfast of legal complexity and confusion that will be a feature of expensive and uncertain court cases for years to come.

For workers, the government is offering more of the same false promise of "choice" in workplaces where employees' individual bargaining power is negligible measured against the influence of their corporate employers.

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First published in The Australian on October 10, 2005.

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About the Author

Bill Shorten is national secretary of the Australian Workers Union

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