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."