New South Wales fights back

Peter Primrose

The New South Wales Government has opposed the federal government's industrial relations agenda by:

  • Rejecting formal requests by the federal government that NSW hand over its industrial powers; and challenging the constitutional validity of the new federal laws in the High Court of Australia. Hearings concluded on 11 May 2006, and the decision is expected in late 2006.

  • Passing legislation on 9 March 2006 to shield 189,000 public sector workers - including nurses, ambulance officers, TAFE teachers and bus drivers - from the divisive and unbalanced WorkChoices legislation. The Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Act 2006 ensures that their wages, conditions and entitlements are not eroded by WorkChoices.

  • Committing State Owned Corporations not to use the federal government industrial relations changes to cut pay and conditions.

  • Passing the Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2006 on 9 March 2006, which authorises the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW to conciliate and arbitrate disputes in circumstances where a common law contractual agreement confers a power to do so.

  • Announcing proposals to amend the Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2006 to permit the Industrial Relations Commission to provide alternative dispute resolutions services to employees and employers in the federal system, and to allow the Industrial Relations Commission to sit jointly with the industrial tribunals of other states. This will enable the efficient and comprehensive consideration of evidence in wage and other test cases, and make it easier for the states to fill the gap left by federal government's removal of fairness as a consideration in setting wages and conditions in WorkChoices.

  • "Young workers will not have to individually bargain to maintain their existing penalty rates, allowances, training pay and training leave, and will also have a right to challenge unfair dismissals in the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission."

  • Announcing proposals to protect in excess of 150,000 young people under the age of 18 who are in formal employment by legislating that wages and conditions for young workers must be at least equal to NSW awards and legislation. Importantly, young workers will not have to individually bargain to maintain their existing penalty rates, allowances, training pay and training leave. Young people will also have a right to challenge unfair dismissals in the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission.

  • Announcing proposals to ensure that current provisions for the protection of injured workers remain viable and accessible and to protect employees from dismissal or victimisation for raising legitimate OH & S issues at work.

  • Establishing a Parliamentary Inquiry into the impact of the federal government's WorkChoices legislation on the people of NSW. The Inquiry is being conducted by the Legislative Council's Standing Committee on Social Issues. It is due to report by 23 November 2006.

  • Establishing a taskforce to report into the impact of WorkChoices on the Social and Community Services sector in New South Wales. The taskforce is made up of representatives from NSW Council of Social Services, the Australian Services Union, the Department of Community Services and the Department of Ageing, Disability and Homecare. It will report on the federal government industrial relations changes and their impacts on community services workers and the provision of social services.

  • Establishing the Fair Go Advisory Service to help employees in NSW understand the effects of the federal laws on their pay and conditions and advise them about their choices. The Service has assisted over 110,000 callers since the WorkChoices legislation came into effect.

  • Developing the Compare What's Fair website which has assisted 12,000 workers to assess the terms of an Australian Workplace Agreement against the fair and reasonable standards of the relevant state award.

  • Supporting a $20 wage case in the NSW State Wage Case 2006 and opposing the federal government's attempt to have the matter delayed until after the Australian Fair Pay Commission determination. The decision by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to increase rates of pay by $20 has already been received by thousands of workers in NSW.

  • Submitting to the Australian Fair Pay Commission that all award rates of pay should increase by $20 per week retrospective to the date of the NSW State Wage Case 2006 decision, that is, 26 June 2006, or twelve months since the last applicable wage case variation, whichever is the latter.

  • Submitting to the Senate Inquiry into the federal government's Independent Contractors Bill 2006 that the bill should be opposed. The Bill is another attempt by the Howard Government to remove legitimate employment protections by over-riding State laws. Like WorkChoices, the Independent Contractors Bill tilts the employment balance, encouraging sham contract arrangements that remove basic entitlements such as minimum rates of pay, annual leave, long service leave, superannuation, workers compensation, sick leave, and public holidays.

  • Seeking the urgent commencement of the improved parental and family leave test case standards set in the NSW Family Provisions Test Case in August 2005, to ensure that award entitlements were secured prior to the commencement of WorkChoices.

Peter Primrose has been an Australian Labor Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Council since 1996, and is currently the Government Whip in the Legislative Council. The Evatt Foundation would be pleased to receive information on what the other states have done



The Evatt Foundation

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University of Sydney, NSW, 2006.


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