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Fed: Work Choices close to being gone forever, Gillard

25 Nov 2008 3:20 PM

CANBERRA, Nov 25 AAP - Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard has sounded the death knell for Work Choices, saying it was "tantalisingly" close to being gone forever.

Legislation dismantling the previous Howard government's controversial workplace relations regime was introduced to parliament on Tuesday, honouring a Labor election promise.

The government's aim is to have the draft laws pass the House of Representatives by the end of next week and through the Senate early next year for introduction in 2010.

The new system balanced the interests of employers and employees and balances rights with responsibilities, Ms Gillard said.

It delivers:

. a safety net of minimum conditions that can't be stripped away,

. bargaining in good faith at the enterprise level,

. protection from unfair dismissal,

. protection and hope for a better future for the low-paid,

. balance between work and family life, and

. the right to be represented in the workplace.

The rights will be guaranteed by the legislation and will be overseen by a new umpire, Fair Work Australia, that would be independent and balanced.

"It's a good bill for employees, for employers, for families and for the economy," Ms Gillard told parliament.

The safety net includes 10 legislated employment conditions covering weekly hours of work, leave, public holidays, notice and redundancy pay.

The right to enterprise bargaining is enshrined in the bill but it did not include any concept of union or non-union agreements, Ms Gillard said.

Instead, an agreement is made when approved by a majority of employees to whom it will apply.

"This new framework is premised on good faith bargaining and recognises that most workplaces already bargain in good faith without any intervention," she said.

Fair Work Australia would not approve an enterprise agreement that didn't have provision for individual flexibility, a dispute settlement process and a requirement for consultation on major workplace changes.

Agreements also had to be consistent with unfair dismissal, right of entry and National Employment Standards.

Fair Work Australia could make a determination where industrial action over bargaining was having a serious impact.

Ms Gillard said new unfair dismissal rules would protect good employees while allowing employers to manage under-performing workers.

Small business employees won't be able to claim unfair dismissal until they've been employed for 12 months.

"Operational reasons" will no longer be a defence against a claim of unfair dismissal, but genuine redundancy will be.

Industrial action can only be taken through a secret ballot.

The bill allows union meetings to be held in the workplace during non-working hours.

Union representatives could only go into a workplace after giving 24 hours notice. Unions could look at employment records when relevant to a suspected breach. There were protections against misuse of information.

Ms Gillard said the bill ensured balance and fairness in workplaces.

"With the introduction today of the Fair Work Bill, Work Choices is tantalisingly close to being gone forever, along with the careers of those who tried to foist it, without a mandate and without transparency, on an unwilling Australian people," she said.