His master's voice

June 8, 1994

His master's voice

"Caved in to employer pressure" and "Brereton's backflip" were the typical responses of the establishment media to the announcement that industrial relations minister Laurie Brereton would modify the unfair dismissals provisions in his newly legislated industrial law.

Brereton said openly that placing a six months' salary limit as compensation for award workers unfairly dismissed and putting an equal burden of proof on the employee were done "in direct response to some employers' views that the unfair dismissal provisions are an impediment to the employment of new staff".

Under the changes, daily hire workers in the building and construction industry will once again be exposed to the sack at one day's notice. Further, workers employed under the new "training" wage will not be covered by any legal safeguards.

As might be expected, ACTU secretary Bill Kelty is understood to support the changes. Brereton's office expressed the belief that building workers union leader Stan Sharkey likewise supported the changes, including the reversion to one day's notice for daily hire building workers. Sharkey has since complained of not being consulted — perhaps the minister had just assumed his compliance.

Prior consultation seems to have been wasted on ACTU president Martin Ferguson, who really didn't know what to think of the government's retreat.

It took a Democrat Senator Robert Bell, not known as union friendly, to note that employers may well find it cheaper to unfairly dismiss workers than to negotiate a redundancy pay-out.

Ultimately, when push comes to shove, the Labor government's "special relationship" with the ACTU leadership pales into insignificance when big business roars its disapproval.

The Financial Review reported that Brereton had "decided to change the provisions after hearing from the likes of the Commonwealth Bank's Mr David Murray, Mr Bob Mansfield from Optus, Mr Peter Ritchie from McDonald's ..." The paper's May 31 editorial notes, "By amending the law now, Mr Brereton has won praise for his willingness to listen to the employers advice" — his master's voice.

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