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Forward with Workplace Relations

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Rachel Siewert 13 Nov 2008

There are increasing concerns that the Government's Forward with Fairness legislation will not be delivering sustainable fair workplace laws but rather will be serving up Work Choices-lite.

The Greens have already argued the award modernisation process will result in a deterioration of minimum conditions of work, particularly affecting workers who are not able to access genuine collective bargaining.

On 12 November 2008 I read out in the Senate the stories of women workers finding life difficult under the current laws and wondering what life will be like under Forward with Fairness. The Greens strongly believe the voices of disadvantaged workers must be heard in the upcoming debate.

The recently released Australia@Work report found that more Australian workers are struggling to make ends meet, one third of workers are outside the protection of workplace laws and that Australia continues to have some of the worst working hours in the OECD. It also found that awards continue to be relevant to many workers.

Will Forward with Fairness provide the framework to increase job security, give workers more control over their working hours and provide sufficient protection for lower paid workers?

Without retaining a strong award system, without providing for arbitration and by allowing the deterioration of minimum conditions, the answer is no.

The Greens are determined to put Forward with Fairness to the test in the Senate.

Safe Work Australia
The Greens combined with Senator Xenophon and the opposition to make important changes to the Safe Work Australia Bill in the Senate. The Bill establishes Safe Work Australia to draft model OHS laws, regulations and codes of practice.

I delivered a speech in the Senate which outlines the Greens' key concerns with the Bill. Our approach was to follow the internationally accepted practice that OHS regulation works best when developed through a genuine tripartite and independent process.

The amendments passed in the Senate restored the former representative numbers for employees and employers and removed excessive interference in the operations of Safe Work Australia by the Minister and the Ministerial Council. The Government has inexplicably rejected all of the Senate's amendments.

Campaign to abolish the ABCC
On 28 August 2008 I introduced into the Senate the Building and Construction Industry (Restoring Workplace Rights) Bill 2008. The Bill repeals the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act and thereby abolishes the ABCC.

The Greens have consistently stated that it is an affront to democracy to have workplace laws that take away the right to silence, deny people their choice of lawyer, provide powers to compel evidence with the possibility of jail for not complying, and impose severe restrictions on the rights of workers to organise and bargain collectively.

There is not and never was any justification for targeting building and construction workers with such laws. Unfortunately the current government, like the previous one, doesn't agree.

But, the Greens will keep fighting in the Parliament to repeal these laws and abolish the ABCC before 2010, and fight to ensure that Fair Work Australia does not have any similar punitive powers.

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