The Guardian September 20, 2000


IR taskforce report is not a union wish list

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) has welcomed the release of the 
Industrial Relations Taskforce Report on the Review of the Victorian 
Industrial Relations System as a major step forward for Victorian workers. 
"The union movement urges the Government to implement the report in full", 
said VTHC Secretary Leigh Hubbard. "The 106 recommendations of the report 
are not a union wish-list."

The Taskforce was made up of representatives of employer associations, 
trade unions and community groups. It held many months of deliberation and 
negotiations on the recommendations in the report which was released on 
September 5.

The VTHC refined its position during this process, to the point where the 
recommendations should be considered as the minimum actions the Bracks 
Government must take to fix the appalling wages and conditions of 
employment of around 600,000 Victorian employees, as well as outworkers and 
independent contractors.

"The recommendations are in no way an ambit claim by unions and we have no 
fall back position from the recommendations as presented", said Mr Hubbard.

The majority of the Taskforce recommend a state-based industrial system 
with a number of core legislated employment standards and a "Fair 
Employment Tribunal" that is also able to set standards.

The former Kennett Government had abolished the state award system and 
former Industrial Relations Commission, leaving hundreds of thousands of 
Victorian workers at the mercy of employers, without the legal protection 
of awards or enterprise agreements.

After receiving evidence through written submissions and at 11 public 
consultations the Taskforce confirmed that the deregulation of Victoria's 
state IR System since 1992 is having a serious effect on the lives of 
Victorians who can least afford it.

The Taskforce commissioned the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations 
Research and Training (ACCIRT) to report on Earnings, employment 
benefits and industrial coverage in Victoria.

The ACCIRT report found:

Minimum Conditions  33 per cent or 561,000 Victorian workers are 
under Schedule 1A (Federal Workplace Relations Act) minimum conditions and 
an estimated 356,000 workers receive only the five minimum conditions of 
employment.

Only a third of these workers are paid annual leave loading, about a 
quarter get paid penalty rates for weekend work and only 41 per cent are 
paid overtime rates.

Low Pay  in 1999 over 140,000 Victorian workers, about 10 per 
cent of the workforce, earned less than $10 per hour (compared with eight 
percent in NSW and nine percent nationally) and nearly 330,000, about 24 
percent of the workforce, earned less than $12 per hour (19 percent NSW and 
21 per cent nationally).

Rural Workers  nearly 30 per cent of non-metropolitan workers earn 
less than $12 per hour compared with just 23 percent of city workers.

Casuals  about 18 percent of casuals earn under $10 per hour, 
compared with nine percent of permanents.

Small Workplaces  nearly one fifth of employees in small 
workplaces earn under $10 per hour.

Average Hourly Earnings  Victorians earn just 93 percent of what 
NSW employees earn.

Earnings Changes since 1989  the decline in the percentage 
receiving under $10 per hour bracket between 1989 and 1999 was only 25 per 
cent in Victoria, compared with 37 percent in NSW and 34 percent 
nationally.

In relative terms, Victoria went backwards.

"No other state in Australia has treated its workforce in such a 
contemptuous way as the Kennett Government did. Every other state has 
ensured that its workforce has employment conditions underpinned by award 
standards that cover the full range of workplace issues", said Leigh 
Hubbard.

The representative on the Taskforce from the Victorian Employers' Chamber 
of Commerce and Industry, true to his class interests, supported the status 
quo or at best minimal changes.

The report also recommends that the Government commence work on developing 
specific legislation for the clothing industry similar to NSW's "Behind the 
Label" legislation, with a low cost and accessible tribunal for the review 
of unfair contracts (for independent contractors such as owner drivers) and 
that certain categories of workers can be "deemed" employees for the 
purposes of industrial law.

"We can be proud of the work now completed by the Taskforce, which has been 
the first public inquiry into our state's IR system since 1992", said Mr 
Hubbard.

"We now have the opportunity to rectify the substantial damage that the 
deregulation process has done and the union movement look forward to the 
speedy introduction of legislation based on these recommendations."

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