Solidarity summarises how much of WorkChoices Labor has reversed so far, what else it plans to change, and how much of Howard’s laws will be retained

Labor’s changes so far

The Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Act 2008:

n Prohibits new Australian Workplace Agreements. But existing AWAs remain for the life of their agreements (up to the end of 2012), even if a worker wants to switch to a collective agreement or award.

n Establishes Interim Transition Employment Agreements. ITEAs are similar to AWAs (although subject to the no disadvantage test) and can be offered until 2010 by any employer who has previously used an AWA. Like AWAs, they take workers out of the collective bargaining system.

n Directs the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to modernise more than 4300 awards. We’ve been here before. Workers have been subjected to waves of “award modernisation” over the past two decades. It’s code for stripping conditions.

Labor’s proposed changes

Labor is proposing to introduce new legislation, to bring about a newfederal industrial relations system by January 2010. The system includes:

n Ten “national employment standards” (NESs). These are more generous than the Howard government’s minimums and include extra conditions including public holidays, redundancy pay and long service leave. But in a big win for business, flexible work arrangements and additional parental leave can be refused on “reasonable business grounds” and employers can require “reasonable additional hours” to be worked beyond the standard 38 hour week.

n Unfair dismissal. From 2010, a worker can claim against a business with 15 or more employees if they have worked there for more than six months. For a business with fewer than 15 employees, it is 12 months.

What Labor will not change

n The ability of employers to eliminate other conditions. Penalty rates, leave loading, etc, are still at risk.

n Restrictions on union officials’ right of entry. Union officials will still have difficulty talking to members or recruiting new ones.

n Secret ballots. Workers will still have to go through an expensive and time-consuming process designed to weaken their confidence to act. They will still face $6600 fines for unauthorised industrial action.

n The Australian Building and Construction Commission. The ABCC, with its undemocratic powers to coerce and intimidate workers, remains until 2010 before being incorporated into the new Fair Work Australia system.

By David Glanz

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