Dec 182007

Inspired by an article in today’s Oz on the slow death of the legislation formerly known as Workchoices, I thought to go looking for the definition of Labor’s 10 minimum standard working conditions.

I didn’t actually find much. Going straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, I opened the Australian Labor Party site and went in search of the policy pronouncements respective to the end of Workchoices. There’s a media statement from August 2007 here, and the Labor Party constitutional platform on IR here. Both areas have some very nice statistical data and cuddly, protectionist promises of better times ahead, but nothing in relation to the vaunted 10 minimum standards.
I notice in the Oz article a reference to a standard working week of 38 hours. That supposed standard doesn’t appear anywhere in the aforementioned links. I, for one, would like to see further definition of these standards, outside of the motherhood, ‘white-knight’ election promise to abolish Workchoices and all of it’s attendant evil implications. Reading through the links, one can clarify the 10 categories of minimum working standards, or rather, employee expectations of same, to be:

  • a standard 38-hour week;
  • annual leave;
  • parental leave;
  • flexible work for parents;
  • annual leave;
  • sick leave;
  • community service leave;
  • public holidays;
  • information in the workplace;
  • termination and redundancy; and
  • long-service leave

I would presume that the detail, in which more than one devil may be hiding, depending on your point of view, will come from the “exposure draft” of legislative changes to current IR laws to be introduced to the Parliament sometime after it resumes in February. Apparently, according to the Oz article, public comment is expected to be completed by April and the new draft legislation brought to the Parliament by June 2008.
I’m in two minds as to the time span being allowed, but realise that convoluted legislation like Workchoices can’t simply be canned and replaced overnight. AWA’s exist across the country, albeit in minimal numbers, but very evident in major income producing sectors. Then there’s the political slant, which one can never, ever discount. Let’s assume that the new laws are argued and debated within and without the House between June and December 2008. Some subtle amendments will undoubtedly eventuate, but in reality, there seems no valid reason that the legislation could not be passed into law by the end of that year. Opposition party obstinance not withstanding in the Senate, of course, but in light of the former government’s resounding electoral drubbing, it would seem unlikely that they would not give at least grudging support to amended legislation which still achieves the primary aims.
So why then could the new legislation not be activated in January 2009? Well, call me cynical, but 2009 isn’t an election year. 2010 is. I warrant we’ll go to the ballot box in September-October of that year after a long, publically-funded marketing campaign not dissimilar to the Howard government’s Workchoices campaign. ‘Publically-funded?’ you ask. Hell’s bells, why not?! It’s in the tax-payer’s interest, after all. This legislation affects them. Hypocritical? Certainly not. It wasn’t throughout 2006-07, so why, suddenly under a new government, should it be so? Such is the nature of politics and to deny it won’t happen is to declare openly that one is a card-carrying citizen of cloud-cuckoo land.
So, I guess if I really want to see the nitty-gritty detail of just what makes up these 10 minimum working standards/expectation/protections, I’ll just have to be patient like everyone else and hang out until February 2008. At least listening to Parliament won’t be boring. Well, any more so than it can be from time to time. As for Australian society experiencing the real impetus of a Rudd Labor government, from an IR perspective at least, we’ll have to wait two more years. Will the Unions be prepared to wait that long, I wonder?

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