Workers face sack after one warning

New IR laws reset boundaries

By Brad Norington and Patricia Karvelas.

New "one-strike" unfair dismissal laws for small business will give employers the right to sack people after just one warning about their performance, under workplace laws proposed by the Rudd Government.

In a detailed outline of Labor’s alternative to Work Choices, Deputy Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard also yesterday revealed that the low-paid with no bargaining muscle would gain the right to band together and negotiate with employers.

She has responded to fears that "multi-employer bargaining” could lead to uncontrollable strikes. Ms Gillard said the low-paid in industries such as hospitality, cleaning, retail and childcare could have industry-style negotiations run by their unions, but they would be denied a right to legal industrial action.

In another concession to business, Ms Gillard yesterday declared that Labor would maintain a restriction introduced under Work Choices on the content of union bargaining claims. Bargaining claims would be wider than under the Howard government by including union issues such as training leave, but they must relate specifically to the employment relationship.

Strikes over social causes such as the environment and anything linked to management rights would be banned. Another Work Choices provision – docking a minimum of four hours’ pay when employees take any unprotected strike action – would remain.

Ms Gillard said yesterday Labor would seek to restore a "fair go" in the workplace under legislation to be introduced into parliament by the end of the year that is intended to replace the Coalition’s industrial relations laws.

In an attempt to appease both employers and unions, she said the universal restoration of unfair dismissal rights would include a simple code for small businesses that did not have the time or resources to fight legal claims.

Under Labor’s proposed changes, workers in businesses with fewer than 15 people would receive one warning – preferably but not necessarily in writing – that they were at risk of the sack. After a reasonable opportunity to improve their performance, employees could be sacked if they failed. Employees could be sacked without warning if an employer reasonably suspected them of theft, fraud or violence. If workers could prove they had been unfairly dismissed, compensation would be capped at six months’ pay.

Existing Howard government laws exempting all employers with fewer than 100 employees from unfair dismissal claims would be abolished. Under new probation rules, employees in firms with fewer than 15 staff would get the right to claim unfair dismissal after 12 months’ employment. The no-claims period for all other employees would be six months.

In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Ms Gillard revealed that Labor’s new legislation would allow low-paid workers to have their unions apply to bargain collectively with a "specified list of employers”.

The Australian Industry Group welcomed the Government’s introduction of a fair dismissal code to help small business. But AIG chief executive Heather Ridout voiced caution about proposals for "multi-employer” bargaining, saying it could still lead to industrial action if no agreement were reached.

Ms Ridout urged Ms Gillard to reconsider the Government’s timetable for introducing its industrial relations regime after the minister said new "fair bargaining” laws and the full restoration of unfair dismissal claims would start next July (2009). Employers would prefer Labor to stick with a Labor timetable outlined before the election of January 1, 2010, before introducing all its changes.

The Australian.

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