30/10/2007 - 22:00

IR changes planned

30/10/2007 - 22:00

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The state government has introduced a package of industrial relations reforms that look set to undermine parts of the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation and increase the powers of the WA Industrial Relations Commission.

The state government has introduced a package of industrial relations reforms that look set to undermine parts of the federal government’s WorkChoices legislation and increase the powers of the WA Industrial Relations Commission.

Three bills – the Industrial and Related Legislation Amendment Bill 2007, the Contractual Benefits Bill 2007 and the Employment Dispute Resolution Bill 2007 – outlining the changes were debated in state parliament last week and are at the second reading stage.

The proposed legislation would allow employees of constitutional corporations to claim denied contractual benefits through the WA Industrial Relations Commission.

Under WorkChoices, these employees are unable to claim benefits through the commission.

The legislation also introduces a formal avenue for bullying complaints, allowing employees and contractors to take claims to the Occupational Health and Safety Tribunal.

While the tribunal would not be authorised to order financial compensation, it would be able to order an employer to attend anti-bullying training at their own expense, or require the appointment of a workplace facilitator to deal with workplace bullying.

Other changes include broadening the scope of claims available to safety and health representatives, who are able to bring claims through the OS&H tribunal.

The powers of the tribunal have been extended to compensate for detriment other than loss of employment or earnings.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA manager workplace relations policy, Marcia Kuhne, said the legislation was extremely complex and detailed, and was likely to make business more difficult.

“We think that it will add duplication and complexity to an area that is already complex,” she said.

“We should be working with the current system to make it user-friendly, rather than adding tiers to make it more complex.”

Ms Kuhne said the CCI was concerned that there had been no consultation about the legislation before it was tabled in parliament.

“We haven’t had a chance to fully scrutinise the detail and fully understand its impact,” she said.

“One concern for us is that, under the legislation, it is possible for a child employee who is award-free to now be covered by a state award, even though an adult of the same employer could be covered by something else.”

Ms Kuhne said it was inappropriate to expand the powers of the state’s IR Commission.

“We say it is inappropriate because we have a national system.”

Blake Dawson Waldron industrial relations lawyer Marie-Claire Foley said the government’s legislation would undo some of the federal governments IR changes. “The main thing is, people covered by WorkChoices couldn’t go to the state commissioner before with a claim, and now they can,” she said.

However, it was possible for the federal government to intervene and effectively revoke the changes.

“I think the federal government could remove all this at the stroke of a pen, by making it excluded legislation,” she said.

Under Work Choices, state legislation covering contractual benefits is not classified as excluded, but the industrial relations act itself is.

Other changes include allowing the WA Industrial Relations Commission to conduct dispute resolution, and new protections for child employees, such as reinstating unfair dismissal protection and limiting unpaid trial work to one day per calendar year.

Employees who are injured in the workplace would also be allowed to seek reinstatement through the WA Industrial Relations Commission, rather than the Federal Court as mandated under WorkChoices.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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