By Stephen Robson
PERTH — Industrial relations minister Graham Kierath tabled the Workplace Agreements Bill, the Industrial Relations Amendments Bill and the Minimum Conditions of Employment Bill in the WA parliament on July 8.
When the Court government was elected in February, it had made changes to industrial relations a centrepiece of its "reform" agenda.
A June 17 rally of 9000 unionists was a response to earlier attacks by the government. It is expected that a meeting of the Trades and Labour Council on July 13 will discuss whether to initiate a campaign against the legislation.
Already some unions have indicated that they will attempt to shift from state to federal awards.
At the centre of the three bills are workplace agreements. As in the Kennett legislation in Victoria, bypassing unions is an important element of the bills. Workers will be given the option of a non-union advocate to negotiate on their behalf. Agreements will have a life of five years. Breaches of the agreement may result in fines of up to $5000.
Workers will be given a "choice" between the existing award conditions and workplace agreements directly negotiated with the employers. Estimates are that 110,000 workers in Western Australia are currently outside the award system.
Supposedly workers and employers will be treated equally under the acts. But in the labour market of capitalism with over 11% unemployment and a demobilised union movement, with workers treated as a commodity to be bought and sold at the best of times, they are likely to suffer further cuts in living standards.
The Minimum Conditions of Employment Bill requires a current minimum wage of $275.50. Other components of minimum conditions include four weeks' annual leave, 10 days' sick leave, paid public holidays, two days'
bereavement leave and maternal/parental leave of one year without pay.
Future changes in the minimum conditions will be at the discretion of the industrial relations minister through regulation, giving considerable power to the government to undermine conditions further.
As foreshadowed by Kierath, closed shop agreements will be outlawed if the new legislation becomes law.