Friday, December 12, 2008


Changes unfair to workers: Cameron

Mark Davis Political Correspondent, smh

December 12, 2008

ON THE first day of Senate committee hearings on the Federal Government's contentious industrial relations legislation yesterday, Coalition senators might have been expected to gang up on the Fair Work Bill.

But as it turned out it was one of the Government's own - the former union firebrand Doug Cameron - who applied the blowtorch to the legislation drawn up by the Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard.

Senator Cameron criticised the bill's ban on "pattern bargaining", where unions seek identical enterprise agreements across an industry, and the powers it gives the industrial tribunal to halt strikes that are damaging the economy.

He questioned how these restrictions could be reconciled with the bill's objectives of encouraging collective bargaining and with Australia's obligations under International Labor Organisation conventions on the right to strike.

"Is there any other country in the world where such restrictions on pattern bargaining apply?" Senator Cameron asked.

The officials took the question on notice.

From his experience, Senator Cameron said, "you can't help but have similar claims being made at the enterprise level because workers … are facing … similar economic circumstances".

"How do you then determine whether it is pattern bargaining or legitimate enterprise bargaining?"

The department's deputy secretary, John Kovacic, said it would be pattern bargaining if the union would not negotiate about the needs of individual workplaces.

Senator Cameron also questioned the fairness of excluding employees with less than six months' service at large employers and with less than 12 months at small employers from making unfair dismissal claims.

By contrast, Opposition senators were relatively subdued, although they did raise concerns about "right of entry" rules covering union access to workplaces.

The Liberal senator Gary Humphries opened the Opposition's questioning by saying: "As far as we're concerned, Work Choices is dead and provisions in the legislation which give it a decent burial won't have any argument from us."

The committee will report to the Senate in late February.