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Commonwealth has eyes on State system

COMPANIES moving from the Western Australian industrial relations system to the Federal one has increased the likelihood of the State’s IR regime being controlled from Canberra.

The Federal Government is understood to be putting its plans to take control of unfair dismissal laws, using its corporations powers, to the senate in the spring sitting.

The Democrats have already indicated that they will back the Government’s Termination of Employment Bill.

If the bill passes, incorporated businesses will come under the Federal unfair dismissal system. Nationally, that is about 85 per cent of all businesses.

That would mean problems for the WA Industrial Relations Commission because more than half of its work involves unfair dismissal cases.

In theory the Federal Government could extend the rest of its industrial relations system through to incorporated businesses.

In his Sir Norman Cowper lecture on June 20, Federal Industrial Relations Minister Tony Abbott suggested doing exactly that.

“Step by step legislative expansion of the Commonwealth’s workplace relations jurisdiction would be in keeping with the conservative incrementalism which has characterised the Howard Government,” he said.

In his speech Mr Abbott said while the corporations powers would only bring 85 per cent of businesses under a national IR system, it was unlikely that separate State systems would be maintained for just 15 per cent.

Democrat senator Andrew Murray said he was in favour of a unitary industrial relations system.

The Labor Party has been a traditional supporter of a single national industrial relations regime, however its Workplace Relations spokesman Craig Emerson said he opposed the Termination of Employment Bill, even if it meant a step towards a unitary system.

Business groups also advocate the benefits of having a single system. It gets around jurisdiction hopping used by various unions, it clears up some of the inconsistencies between the State system and would make it easier for businesses to operate interstate.

However, they also warn of the risks of such a system. While the Liberal Federal Government may provide a more business-friendly IR system, there is no guarantee that a Federal Labor Government would do the same.

WA Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke said he would be opposed to any attempts to nationalise industrial relations.

He is also opposing the Termination of Employment Bill.

“The Commonwealth Government still has to get the bill through the parliament and will still be open to a challenge in the High Court,” Mr Kobelke said.

“Other States have indicated that they will challenge the unfair dismissal moves in court.”

Mr Kobelke said the use of Federal corporations powers to cover unfair dismissal was a breach of a promise the Government made in 2001 when the States ceded some corporations’ powers to it.

“We had a clear undertaking from the Commonwealth that it would not extending its powers into industrial relations or environmental matters,” he said.

Mr Kobelke refused to say what would become of the WAIRC if the Federal Government succeeded in getting its unfair dismissal laws in place.

“I don’t want to make a call on the commission,” he said.

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