During Senate Estimates last night, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission confirmed $1.8 million of funding to support workplace related complaints has been cut by the Rudd Government, placing more stress on the Commission.
HREOC received additional money when Work Choices was introduced, as it was expected that workplace related complaints would increase, given the abolition of unfair dismissal protections. The Government has now cut this funding.
The Government is trying to justify the cuts by saying Work Choices will eventually be abolished. However, they do not intend to re-introduce protection from unfair dismissal until 2010. This leaves another two years of workers not being protected by unfair dismissal laws and HREOC struggling to meet increased demand.
The removal of unfair dismissal protections is one of the key concerns about the changes to industrial relations laws.
Prior to Work Choices most workers could apply to the industrial relations commission if they thought they had been unfair fairly dismissed. Work Choices removed this protection for all workers in businesses of less than 100 employees, representing a large proportion of employees in Australia.
Protection from unfair dismissal is important for job security - when you risk being sacked for any reason at any time, it can easily create a culture of fear and intimidation.
Employees may become more cautious about raising occupational health and safety concerns or demanding their rights in the workplace. Employers may also feel freer to harass, bully or discriminate against employees. While harassment and discrimination are unlawful, it is a more difficult and complicated process to receive redress for that sort of behaviour.
HREOC confirmed there has been a marked increase in complaints since Work Choices and indicated they have no reason to think the level of complaints will drop any time in the near future. For a Government that came into office on the back of a campaign for workers rights, it is not actually doing very much to help those employees who are facing discrimination or unfair dismissal right now.
Most of Work Choices is alive and well at the moment. There is still no protection from unfair dismissal for most workers. In fact the Government opposed amendments put forward by the Greens to re-introduce protection from unfair dismissal in March this year. Meanwhile, after making so much noise about AWAs, thousands of employees are still employed on AWAs and more employees can now be employed on Interim Transitional Employment Agreements (ITEAs), which are merely AWAs by another name.
The ALP is making things worse by making it more difficult for employees to get redress against their employers for discrimination, and placing more pressure on HREOC to help out.