The Howard Government’s changes, according to their rhetoric, is about bringing employment law into the 21st century. In reality it is taking us back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
Basic concepts such as agreements have to be made by more than one party right? Not any more. The Howard Government has created a concept of an employer greenfield workplace agreement.
This is an arrangement where before a business is established the employer registers a workplace agreement.
Who are the parties to the agreement? Well the employer is one party but there are no other parties. It is an agreement with one party: it is the equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping. So this agreement is not negotiated with the workers, it is not negotiated with the unions, it is not even negotiated with a bargaining agent for the future workers.
With the removal of the no-disadvantage test against all award conditions, new employers entering an industry can dictate the employment conditions wholly and solely.
Some might say what’s the fuss? There are provisions for greenfield agreements now where employees had no say in their conditions. However these were at least bona fide agreements between the employer and a union that represents workers. They also had to pass the no-disadvantage test scrutinised by an independent umpire.
It is an Orwellian concept to introduce a new system under the heading of WorkChoices when agreements with one party can be registered that destroy working conditions.
Now turning to the unfair dismissal changes, the legislation will remove the rights of workers to pursue unfair dismissal cases where there are less than 100 workers. It will still enable workers to initiate proceedings for unlawful termination. But this definition is very narrow; for instance, it is not unlawful to terminate someone for refusing an illegal direction.
That’s right, a boss can give you an unlawful direction and if you refuse and there are less than 100 workers you cannot get your job back if you are dismissed. For example, if you are a truck driver and your boss says he wants you to get this delivery to the next town 400km away in three hours and you say this is impossible as you would have to break the speed limits, you would have no redress if the boss sacked you on the spot. So next time a family member is killed by a speeding truck, don’t complain to the Federal Government because you, the people of Australia, voted for this bunch.
How can anyone think this is good for society?
Imagine this - you work in a food outlet and a product has passed its use-by date and you go to throw it out but your boss directs you to serve it to customers. What do you do? If you refuse, you could be sacked and have no chance of getting your job back if there are less than 100 employees. If you are sacked, then the Federal Government’s rules mean you can’t get immediate access to unemployment benefits. So you have the choice of keeping your job and hoping you can live with your conscience about causing someone to get ill, or facing the sack.
You might say, “Come on, people aren’t like that”, but the whole point of regulation is to protect the majority from the rotten few. If all employers and employees were angels there would be no need for any regulation. However, that is not reality: there needs to be regulation not to control the actions of the majority but to temper the excesses of the minority who can cause so much damage.
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