IR reforms under attack: SA

PROPOSED changes to South Australia’s industrial relations system recently came under attack from employers, after the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI) said the Industrial Law Reform (Fair Work) Bill 2004 reads more like a wish list from industrial lawyers and academics rather than a serious set of proposals for economic advancement and job creation

PROPOSED changes to South Australia’s industrial relations system recently came under attack from employers, after the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI) said the Industrial Law Reform (Fair Work) Bill 2004 reads more like a wish list from industrial lawyers and academics rather than a serious set of proposals for economic advancement and job creation.

The Bill, which seeks to extend minimum rates of pay and conditions to workers not covered by awards or enterprise agreements, would put South Australian economic activity and jobs at a disadvantage in both the national and international economy, according to ACCI chief executive Peter Hendy.

“Neither the South Australian economy, nor its labour market, can afford to experiment with extreme levels of regulation in its state employment laws,” he said.

“It is not surprising that [the South Australian Government] has been soundly criticised by business, economists and independent commentators.”

Research commissioned by the state’s peak employer body Business SA and conducted by Access Economics found that, if successful, the Bill would cost more than 1,400 jobs.

The draft Bill, which is due to be considered by the South Australian Parliament in late March, includes provisions for increased protections of contractors, addressing equal pay issues, extending compulsory conciliation, introducing concurrent dispute hearings, along with greater rights for labour hire workers and restored powers for industrial inspectors.

The Information Technology Contract & Recruitment Association (ITCRA) declared its total opposition to the Bill, claiming it would have a seriously detrimental impact on more than seven thousand IT contractors operating in South Australia by deeming their status to be that of employees.

The impact on the IT industry for South Australia would be “immediate, dramatic and serious”, resulting in IT being driven out of the state, according to Norman Lacy, executive director of ITCRA.

“What IT workers believe is fair is that they continue to have the same choice that IT professionals have in every other Australian state – the choice to operate in a common law contractual environment in which they determine for themselves the services they offer,” she said.

“To call this a ‘fair work’ Bill is a very sick subterfuge. IT contractors place a high value on their business independence and will fight to maintain it.

“If they can’t work as independent contractors here, they will move to the eastern states where they will also enjoy work cover that costs less than 25 per cent of what it does in SA.”

However the United Trades and Labor Council (UTLC) said that the business sector was promoting baseless and inaccurate statements.

“It is clear that business are prepared to say and do anything to stymie this Bill,” said UTLC secretary, Janet Giles.

“Some of their claims are blatantly wrong. When comments that are wrong are reported without challenge, and then not corrected, it leaves people with the false impression that this Bill is dangerous.”

She said that employers had had it their own way for “far too long”, and would be pushing for greater protection for workers, instead of “bowing to untruths and intimidation in an effort to derail improvements”.

“Put simply, we want workplaces to be fairer and safer. If business prevails, that won’t happen, and we will be stuck with the same level of exploitation, unsafe workplaces and unfair employment conditions more reminiscent of the 19th century than the 21st,” she said.

South Australian Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright agreed that there were myths around the Bill that were publicised recently, and called a meeting of South Australia’s Industrial Relations Advisory Committee to discuss the Bill. The committee includes major employer and employee representative groups.

“We must have a mature debate – and that means an end to the scare-mongering and false claims about the current draft Bill,” he said.

“For example, the claim the draft Bill means that someone other than a group training scheme would have to pay a group training apprentices’ wages and conditions is simply not true.

“It has also been suggested that under the draft Bill, casual workers would be entitled to permanency after six months under the Bill – again this is not correct.”

Wright said that the State Industrial Relations Commission would make its decision on the Bill only after hearing evidence and argument from different parties, and taking economic factors into account.

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