Under the Howard’s government, a legislation that touched on matters dealing with labor regulations was passed in Australia. The work choices legislation, as it is known, received royal assent on 14 December 2005 and became operational in March 2006.The legislation made changes to the regulation of employment conditions and industrial relations (Andrew, 2006). This legislation was a cause of much discontent among workers and many thought that it needed to be changed.
In the period preceding the previous federal elections, the Australian labor party strongly campaigned against the work choices legislation and promised to do away with it in the event that they won the elections. Labor, Rudd’s party accused the coalition government of giving employers the right to do as they pleased. The Work Choices law was a key issue in the elections. The union movement successfully mobilized people against the coalition government based on this law (Riley, 2007). Consequently, one of the things that contributed significantly to the victory of the labor party in the elections was the pledge to change the widely unpopular work choices legislation.
The negatives of this law towards the worker did lead to widespread discontent among the people which in turn resulted in the ouster of the coalition government. Having elected the new government, people expected changes that would result in the strengthening of the protection for workers. They hoped that the government would ensure unions have broader powers to protect workers from unfair dismissals (Riley, 2007).They also expected that the unions would then have the mandate to resolve workplace disputes.
The government introduced an Industrial relations policy On November 25 2007. It was introduced by deputy Prime Minister and workplace relations minister Julia Gillard. the Fair Work bill as it was called, is what has now been dubbed “work choices ‘lite’ ” This policy is said to be a calculated political compromise which has been widely criticize (Schneiders, 2007). d. The Rudd government claims that it has brought the changes to the work choice legislation that they had promised. Gilliard said the bill introduced by the Rudd government would sweep away work choices laws (Stewart, 2008).
The assertion by the Rudd government that it has completely overhauled the work choices legislation has been the subject of heated debated with various positions being taken. There are those who claim the new policy introduced by the Rudd government is fundamentally different from work choices legislation (Schneiders, 2007). And then there are also those who have criticized the new policy claiming that it is no different from the Howard’s work choices legislation. Finally there are those who are not certain of whether or not there has been a change, this is perhaps as a result of their ignorance or perhaps even a simple unwillingness on their part to take a stand(Everett, 2009).
The fair work bill has been dubbed work choices –‘lite’ by many of its critics. The critics claim that the new policy is but a replica of the old one. The government on the other hand maintains that it has brought essential changes to the work choices legislation. Given this two conflicting views, it is upon us to examine each and at least attempt to come up with a conclusion on the matter. Is it indeed true that the new policy is no different from the work choices legislation or could it be that the government stand is factual? The answer to this vital question can, if at all possible, be found only by carefully scrutinizing both legislations (Windisch, 2009).
In an attempt to answer the question stated above, it is necessary to begin with a comparison of the two legislations. To establish whether or not the two legislations are one and the same or at least to establish that the similarities are so profound as to diminish any differences that might be, we begin a careful examination of both. Those who claim that the two are similar have put forward several points that the two have in common (Vitale, 2008).
One of the similarities between the work choices legislation and the Industrial relations policy introduced by the Rudd government is that the “No disadvantage test” is not a part of both policies. This test which was removed by the work choice legislation has not been reintroduced in the new Rudd policy (Schneiders, 2007). The test was, before its removal, used to weigh the benefits of an award to an employee against any agreement that has been newly proposed to ensure that at the end of the day, the position of the employee is no worse off than it was prior to the new agreement(Forsyth, 2008). With this test it was possible to ensure that an employee does not loose in any manner as a result of entering any new agreement. Both the Rudd policy and the Howard policy have a fairness test instead of the no-disadvantage-test and are therefore similar in this manner (Stewart, 2008).
Another similarity between the two policies is that both of them restrict awards that were earlier given to employees. Both legislations underpin the entitlement of workers. In terms of awards to workers, the Rudd policy is similar to the Howard policy (Schneiders, 2007).
The new policy is no different from the work choices policy as both of them contain similar leave entitlements. This is quite evident especially in the retention of Public holidays and notices of termination that existed previously and also redundancy provisions. This is clearly the same as the Howard policy (Stewart, 2008).
In a manner quite similar to the Howard policy, the new policy has also put in place significant obstacles will hinder the ability of workers to secure, through collective struggle, good pay and conditions. This is in the same vein with the work choices laws.
In the Rudd policy much like in the Howard policy, the right of an aggrieved worker to take strike in order to get better and conditions will remain to be against the law of the land. More so, as was the case with Work Choices, only with the approval of a through ballot of a majority of employees will a strike be deemed lawful (Riley, 2007). The ballot, which has to be conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission., still requires seventy two hours notice.In both policies it is illegal to engage in industrial action. The Rudd policy just like the Howard policy also gives the employer the right to lockout workers who have taken part in industrial action (Schneiders, 2007).
Another point that goes to show just how similar the two policies are is what they say about unfair dismissal rights of workers. Both the Rudd policy and the Howard policy have a somewhat similar say on the unfair dismissal rights as a worker can go for a claim against the employer on condition that the period of employment is at least six months. In both policies, employees may be excluded from taking action for unfair dismissal if they are employed on contractual or seasonal basis. Also in both policies those employed on a reasonable period of probation, a casual employment that is short-term or any trainees are excluded from taking actions on unfair dismissal (Schneiders, 2007).
Following in the footsteps of the work choices laws, the new legislation curbs the rights of workers employed by small businesses. Employees of small businesses will only be given one warning after which they can be dismissed if in the view of the employer they have not changed their conduct. The maximum compensation possible has been set at six moths pay (Everett, 2009). Both the Rudd policy and the Howard policy only requires that a worker be adequately compensated for conditions given that are given up on (Windisch, 2009).
Another quite striking similarity between the Rudd and Howard policy restrict the entry of officials of the union to places of work. In both policies, the union officials still have to inform an employer in advance in case they are to visit any place of work. Also, in both policies the employer has the right to restrict union officials from visiting any particular part of the work place as they dim fit(Forsyth, 2008). As mentioned above, in both policies there is a Requirement that unions organize for ballot before taking industrial action. In Both the Rudd policy and the Howard policy the fines charged against those who engage in any strikes (Schneiders, 2007). The Australian Building and Construction Commission which is established in the Howard policy has also been maintained in the Rudd policy. This is one of the components that were opposed in the work place policy because this body has secret police powers (Stewart, 2008).
The Rudd policies ban strikes outside the official enterprise bargaining period.In both policies, strikes have been declared illegal and the employer has the right to terminate the employment of anyone involved in the unlawful strike. What are workers to do when the employer sacks a union delegate? What if somebody gets injured while working or if the working conditions are unsafe? Will Workers be allowed to show support for some political cause by engaging in strikes? It appears that neither policy have a sufficient answer to these questions. In Both the Rudd and Howard policies, workers have been prevented from showing solidarity with one another (Schneiders, 2007).
In both the Rudd policy and the Howard policy, it is illegal for unions to ask for workers to be protected against unfair dismissal during the negotiation of an agreement with an employer. Both policies limit the topics that can be discussed at any negotiation between union officials and the employer (Forsyth, 2008).. In both cases, fines are to be imposed on the unions should they discuss matters outside of those allowed on such meetings (Schneiders, 2007).
In spite of all these similarities, the Rudd government claims that it has changed the work choices policy and that there industrial relations policy is quite different. The Rudd government claimed that the bill being proposed was based on the principle of fairness.they also claimed it would undo the evil of anti-worker laws. It was said that the policy would give workers new legal rights which were very comprehensive. The government went ahead to mention that this would be a complete overhaul of the workplace laws. Now the government says that the new policy has brought significant and beneficial changes to the conditions of the worker (Schneiders, 2007). So what are some of the changes that make the Rudd policy different from work choices legislation?
Among the said changes are to the removal of the blanket exemption from unfair dismissal which touched on employers with a hundred employees or less. The limit has been reduced to a considerably lower number touching on Employers with less than fifteen employees. Even so, these small businesses if able to show that they complied with the fair dismissal code can avoid an unfair dismissal claim (Everett, 2009).
Another difference, which is ironical in a sense, is that now in the Rudd policy the period given for filing an unfair dismissal calm is 7 days (Schneiders, 2007).. This is a change from the 21 days that were given under the Howard policy. How this is beneficial to the worker is quite hard to comprehend as clearly it doesn’t.
One other change is that the ballot taken before approving the taking if industrial action or otherwise has been changed to secret ballot. In the Howard work choice legislation, the ballot was not secret (Schneiders, 2007).
The new policy has also expanded the number of matters that can be discussed by members of the Union when negotiating employment terms with the employer.
The glaring similarities between the work choice legislation and the Industrial Relations policy of the Rudd government are hard to ignore (Forsyth, 2008). Being this similar it is of curious interest to know how the various parties are affected by these undeniable similarities.
The individuals who are foremost affected by the new legislation are the workers. The workers ability to fight for rights is greatly undermined by the ban on strikes. The employer can now easily dismiss a worker under the new policies. The worker is truly in a position that is not favorable (Forsyth, 2008).
Other parties affected are unions and employers. The ability of the unions to effectively fight for the rights of workers within the limits of the law has reduced significantly. The restrictions imposed on the entry to work place mean that they can not catch the employers off guard or access some areas (Riley, 2007). This coupled by the rules on legal industrial action reduces the effectiveness with which the unions can fight for the rights of workers. For the employer, other than having strained relations with the employee, the new policy is quite welcome. It gives them the ability to hide wrong doing, to dismiss workers at will and protects them from the inconvenience of strikes (Schneiders, 2007).
The other party that is affected by this policy is the Rudd government that has come up with it. The people’s perception of the government has changed as a result of the policy. Whereas the government inspired hope among the workers at the time it came to power, because of the labor policy many have looked at the government with distaste. This policy may have serious political implications which may just show in the next elections (Everett, 2009).
With most of the items in work choices legislation maintained, it should not come as a surprise that the government’s policy has been dubbed work choices ‘lite’ as that is exactly what it is. The Rudd government has betrayed the electorate. It is quite ironical that this government has banned the very same union meetings that they attended and used as a platform for campaigning (Riley, 2007).
The changes the government claims to have brought do not touch many of the pertinent issues that workers need to be addressed. The anger at this clear demonstration of betrayal and ingratitude is what has led the people to call a spade a spade. Without doubt, the new policy is indeed a continuation of the old one, a case of old wine in new wineskins-work choices ‘lite’(Stewart, 2008).
From the preceding discussion, it is clear that with careful examination, the similarities between the policies of the Rudd government and the work choices laws are undeniable (Vitale, 2008).It becomes quite evident that indeed the policies of the previous government have not, at the core been changed at all. The rights of workers which had been trampled upon by the previous regime have not been restored. The peoples ‘savior’ has gone against them. A government that was elected to defend the workers has joined camp with the employer (Windisch, 2009). Now, the basic right of workers to get together and hold have a meeting has been threatened through legislation. Also gone is the workers right to take collective action against oppression. The Rudd government does not tolerate strikes at all and has made it utterly impossible for workers to engage in the same (Everett, 2009). The need for workers to vote for a strike has been maintained. Not all workers have the protection from unfair dismissal laws under the Rudd government (The Australian, 2008).
It is now necessary that the matter be looked at afresh. Given how the population is affected, the government should take its mandate and give the workers that which they voted for. The workers voted against the work choices legislation and they expect this to be changed. In this modern day and age we can not afford to trample upon the rights of workers.
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