I AM encouraged by The Catholic Leader 5/6/05 report that the Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (ACCER) will be meeting with the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Mr Kevin Andrews, to discuss the Federal Government’s proposed unjust industrial relations reforms.
Centralising industrial relations laws without agreement from the states is a power grab based on ideology.
Provisions in the proposed legislation extend employer rights and will create further stress for working families at the workplace struggling with house mortages and raising children.
The ACCER’s task to change Government thinking will be formidable as the legislative move has only come about due to Government control of both Houses of Parliament after July 1. I wish the ACCER success in its endeavours.
Historically the Church has made its business to act and argue in the public arena for the vulnerable in society.
Popes in my lifetime have praised Australia’s industrial relations systems with its Federal and State Industrial Commissions acting independently of Government in determining the minimum wage and successfully resolving disputes between employers and their employees.
This worthy model has been able to defuse conflict between the parties for years, acting and resolving matters basically in accordance with Church values.
So what’s really behind the industrial relations changes?
My view is that the Prime Minister has a fundamentalist view that there exists according to Scripture those “chosen” who are entitled and the rest of us who are not.
He takes this conviction to justify controversially changing the industrial relations laws to greatly benefit employers by stripping away conditions for all working people. I feel anguish about such a move as the people who will pay the price for this indulgence will be the poor and oppressed.
Today companies are encouraging their staff to opt out of the industrial award system and sign up to individual contracts. In some instances I believe some employees in fear of their jobs have done just that.
Such workplaces then become “challenging” for staff with different wage rates or conditions applying to them even though they all are performing their job functions to the same high standard.
Prospective employees are offered contracts by employers with inferior employment terms on a take it or leave it basis.
The new laws will further restrict employees in seeking wage justice in seeking to removing wage anomalies in the workplace as they will risk dismissal.
For example, employees can be continuously employed with no job security as casuals for years in the same firm. If any work colleague speaks up for such working people they could be sacked.
I am fortunate to be working for a large company where there are strong unions who have had the capacity in recent years to bargain conditions back into industrial agreements when such matters were taken out of the hands of the Industrial Commission.
Unfortunately in firms with staff who are not members of unions they enjoy no such protection today.
Working men and women are in need of legislative protection from any employer who doesn’t accord each staff member with a decent wage.
Removal of unfair dismissal laws will further enable a bad employer to lose touch with the gospels in the workplace and become intoxicated with power over their staff. It is a recipe for continuing any injustices in workplaces.
The Church cannot be silent on such an important issue and on what effect these proposed industrial relations laws will do to the vulnerable in the workforce.
Workers will support the endeavours of the ACCER on this industrial relations issue.