CFMEU court challenge to award stripping
By Jonathan Singer
The mining division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has challenged the stripping of conditions from awards contained in the 1996 Workplace Relations Act (WRA) in a case before the High Court.
The court hearing was held from November 9 to 11, with the federal government and a group of coal companies in opposition. A ruling is expected as early as March.
The CFMEU's argument is that Australia's constitution only allows parliament to specify what things arbitration courts can decide on, not what such decisions should be. Therefore, when the WRA restricted arbitration to 20 "allowable matters", it could not also require the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to remove award conditions not among the 20.
Together with the case against the WRA, the union raised cases relating to the coalmining award and specifically to do with one union member, Garry Barnes, who lost his job shortly after job security provisions were stripped from the award. The three aspects of the union's case are designed to ensure immediate practical results for members and clear precedents which would benefit all workers if the case succeeds.
The union's publicity officer, Paddy Gorman, told Green Left Weekly that success in the case would mean that all award stripping would be reversed. However, the WRA will continue to prevent updating or adding new conditions beyond the 20 allowable matters.