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VICTORIAN INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS - THE HIDDEN AGENDA
Herald SunNovember 8, 2000
Premier Bracks has plunged out of his depth into a sea of 185 pages of new Victorian employment legislation having the main purported purpose of providing “fairer” minimum conditions for certain employees. In reality, his proposals would greatly extend the regulation of both employment and business, adding to deterrent economic effects already emerging from union aggression. There are worrying parallels with the era of Premier Cain, who progressively lost control to a confrontational union movement whose HQ is Victoria.
The legislation’s rationale is that the 66 per cent of Victorian employees under Federal awards and agreements supposedly receive “fairer” treatment than those who are not. However, the latter do have minimum conditions incorporated in Federal legislation resulting from the Kennett Government’s referral of the State’s regulation of most employment in 1996. Under Labor, these people had been employed under State awards, but they now effectively have direct agreements with employers.
Contrary to Premier Bracks’ extraordinarily wild claims, those agreements are not obviously “unfair and inequitable”. Indeed, with an average minimum wage 7 per cent higher than under Federal awards, and with 40 per cent also receiving special rates for overtime and annual leave, former State awarders have evidently negotiated generally satisfactory outcomes with their employers. This was also apparent from the relatively minor concerns expressed about the arrangements by Task Force interviewees.
True, the former State awarders have a wider spread of minimum wages and some do not receive all other conditions. But they also have the right to apply for a Federal award and many have done so. And the Premier should recognize the equity of having flexible arrangements that provide more assured employment opportunities for those trying to start work – plus the more assured conditions for the business investment from which employment derives.
The Premier’s claimed need to “redress the plight of the working poor” is particularly pathetic and a partial attempt to disguise the extensive regulation of commercial arrangements. Is he not aware that the majority of low paid actually live in higher-income households and that others receive or are eligible for social security benefits?
Through such benefits, the Federal Government provides for those at the bottom end. Its legislation also gives the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) authority to determine a safety net and AIRC decisions extend minima even to those earning up to $1,000 a week. Accordingly, the Premier’s justification of providing a “new legislative safety net for Victorian employees” does not stand up either.
Last week he also agreed the AIRC under Federal law should umpire the Yallourn Energy dispute. So, why doesn’t he also accept its safety net decisions?
The hidden agenda is the desperation of the dwindling union movement for more regulation because supervisory tribunals inevitably favour it. That bias reflects the failure to understand the considerable opportunities for employees when negotiating under modern competitive conditions with the numerous employers that operate businesses.
The union influence is reflected in the emphasis the legislation gives to “compliance”, dressed up as providing “improved services” to both employers and employees. In reality, the new (misnamed) “Information Services Officers”, who are appointed by the Minister and given virtually free entry to business premises on their own authority, will be enforcers of State Tribunal decisions. As the main object of the legislation is to ensure “fair employment”, and employment is defined widely, businesses would face a Tribunal and its enforcement police that had almost unlimited powers.
The Opposition must reject this legislation: Victoria needs a flexible labour market.
Des Moore is Director, Institute for Private Enterprise