Unions want to boost workplace umpire

small business workers could benefit from union membership, says ACTU Predsident

By Samantha Maiden.

Unions have asked the Rudd Government to boost the powers of the independent industrial umpire, particularly for the low paid.

Warning the new industrial relations reform agenda outlined by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard yesterday was "like sending a referee on to the field without a whistle", ACTU President Sharan Burrow told The Australian Online today she had asked Ms Gillard to "look again" at the powers.

But she’s played down the threat of new "one strike you’re out" rules for small business, conceding for the majority of workers, particularly in businesses with between 15 and 100 employees, unfair dismissal protections have been reinstated.

Under WorkChoices a small business was defined as 100 workers and less and exempted from unfair dismissal protection. Under Labor only companies with fewer than 15 workers will be exempt but will be the subject of a new unfair dismissal code.

"For thousands of workers unfair dismissal protections are back,” she told The Australian. "Collective bargaining rights are back in town. Are we concerned that the differential for small business workers? Yes. But there’s never been an unfair dismissal code for small business. There is protection.”

The government’s new proposed code for small business includes "one-strike" unfair dismissal laws for small business that will give employers the right to sack people after just one warning about their performance. A written warning is preferred but not required.

Workers will also not be protected until 12 months of service, a provision Ms Burrow hinted might be used to churn low-paid younger workers annually and allow employers to avoid the scope of the new rules.

Labor’s alternative to Work Choices yesterday confirmed that the low-paid with no bargaining muscle would gain the right to band together and negotiate with employers. Strikes over social causes such as the environment and anything linked to management rights would be banned.

"The other question is will the scope of the bargaining be wide enough for a modern system,” Ms Burrow said. "Does it prevent bargaining on climate change, sustainability and skills. If it’s not sustainable we won’t have a planet.”

Ms Gillard yesterday warned new opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull not to go down the path of blocking the changes, suggesting in Parliament he would be spitting in the faces of working families if he did not direct the Coalition to support the Government’s replacement to Work Choices.

"Australians have spoken," Ms Gillard said. "And now the Liberals in the Senate must listen."

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said the Government’s proposed workplaces relations regime would be a Trojan Horse for the union movement to resume practices such as pattern bargaining.

"A serious concern is that Labor’s introduction of so-called good faith bargaining will result in employers being dragged before Labor’s industrial umpire where unwanted conditions and wages can be imposed on workplaces," Ms Bishop said.

The Australian.

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