WorkChoices unbalanced, Catholic employment body says

Saying that WorkChoices legislation fails to provide "proper balance" between employer and employee rights, Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations chair Brian Lawrence has called for further changes to the law to protect the financial security of families.

The ACCER issued the call in a new book released Friday, Workplace Relations: A Catholic Perspective, an examination of Catholic social teaching on work and workers' rights and on related economic and social issues.

The book also examines concerns expressed by the Catholic Bishops in November 2005 when the Work Choices legislation was before the Parliament, in which they questioned whether Work Choices would promote truly co-operative employment relations and ensure the protection of the poor and vulnerable.

In particular, the Bishops raised concerns with the Government's legislation regarding the minimum wage, minimum conditions and bargaining, unfair dismissals and the role of unions.

In a statement, ACCER Chairman, Mr Brian Lawrence, said the body had considered each of the four areas identified by the Bishops and tested the relevant parts of the legislation against Catholic social teaching.

He said ACCER found that Work Choices does not provide proper balance between the rights of employers and the rights of workers and changes are needed to address this.

"ACCER has also called for changes in relation to the setting of minimum wages in order to protect the financial position of families and to make fairness the primary obligation of the wage-setting authority," he said.

"The wage-setting function should be returned to the Australian Industrial Relations Council and all members of the Australian Fair Pay Commission should be appointed to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission."

There should be a return to a fair safety net of minimum terms and conditions to underpin both collective and individual employment agreements; a return to the 1996 no-disadvantage test; and the termination of existing agreements that do not comply with that standard.

"ACCER rejects the recently introduced fairness test as insufficient," Mr Lawrence told the Sydney Morning Herald.

He said ACCER does not oppose statutory individual agreements, providing they meet the no-disadvantage test and do not prejudice or frustrate the rights of workers to pursue collective employment agreements.

ACCER's examination found that Work Choices can frustrate the ability of workers to act collectively and can frustrate unions in the representation of their members' interests, thereby making the right to union membership devoid of any meaning and effect in the workplace.

It called for a return to the previous unfair dismissal scheme, introduced in 1996, on the basis that unfair dismissal rights should not be dependent on the size of the employer's undertaking.

"The wage-setting function should be returned to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and all members of the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) should be appointed to the AIRC," the ACCER assessment said.

"The legislation as it presently stands does not sufficiently direct the AFPC to give proper weight to the needs of dependants and should be amended to do so," it said.

The assessment reviewed the legislation for its impact on the right of workers to join and participate in unions.

"The legislation gives us cause for concern in several respects," the ACCER said.

"The legislation does not make sufficient provision for unions to effectively represent their members and for workers to join together in the pursuit of collective enterprise agreements.

"Second, the AIRC, which has lost its century-long capacity to conciliate and arbitrate disputes according to law and industrial principle, has sufficient powers and breadth of jurisdiction to resolve the merits of industrial disputes.

"Third, the current provisions for the making and variation of awards are inadequate to secure a fair outcome for those who do not have the capacity to bargain for greater benefits.

"All of these require changes to the legislation."


Catholic Church urges workplace changes (Sydney Morning Herald, 30/6/07)

IR laws favour bosses: Catholic Church (News.com.au, 29/6/07)
Changes are needed to make Work Choices fairer – Catholic employment body (ACBC, Media Release, 29/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations

Catholic employment body calls for $27 wage rise (CathNews, 23/4/07)
Bishops welcome new HR chief (CathNews, 30/1/07)
Commission urges Church employers to review contracts (CathNews 14/3/06)
Commission advises Catholic employers on new legislation (CathNews 27/1/06)

2 Jul 2007