MINOR CHANGS saw Rudd pass his “WorkChoices-lite” package through the Senate in late March.
But Rudd’s bill has failed to repeal the anti-strike laws contained in WorkChoices. Secret ballots are still required to authorise industrial action, the ban on pattern bargaining remains, workers automatically lose four hours pay for even a five minute stopwork action and industrial action can be suspended where harm is caused to a third party. None of these restrictions were contained in the Coalition’s 1996 Workplace Relations Act.
The right to strike is the only serious weapon unions have to force employers to deliver fair pay and working conditions. Yet Rudd’s legislation does nothing to strengthen workers’ ability to use it.
Final amendments centred on union right of entry provisions and unfair dismissal laws.
Union right of entry to workplaces has expanded so that unions are no longer required to have a member at a workplace to gain access, but simply have to show they are the relevant union covering workers in the industry. The government tried to placate business concern by giving its Fair Work body the power to decide which union can access a workplace where there are no union members, and by watering down union access to non-members’ employee records.
But the restrictions introduced by WorkChoices—on where unions can hold meetings, notice that must be given before entering and the procedure for union officials to register for right of entry permits—remain.
On unfair dismissal Labor has reduced the threshold for businesses gaining exemption to those with 15 workers or less. Family First Senator Stephen Fielding extracted a phase in of the changes over 18 months.
As businesses look to slash pay and sack workers in response to the economic crisis, fighting for our rights at work will mean Rudd’s industrial laws will have to be broken.
By James Supple

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