Call to Rethink Industrial Relations Reforms

26 May 2005

The Uniting Church today called on the Federal Government to rethink its approach to further deregulation of the Industrial Relations system.

National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, the Reverend Elenie Poulos, called on the Government to protect the wages and conditions of Australia's lowest paid workers.

"We must remember that the purpose of a strong economy is to help Australians access secure and equitable standards of living. The labour market is not like any other market. People are not commodities in the service of greater profits and should not be exploited.

"The Government's proposal to strip so many workers of their rights to challenge unfair dismissal is immoral. What avenues will there be for redress for a worker who feels they have been unfairly dismissed? Can we trust employers to put the needs of their workers before their desire for profits?

"The current unfair dismissal laws provide important checks and balances on employment relationships. It is a simple fact that single employees do not have as much power as their employers – the current legislation recognises this," said Rev. Poulos.

"The Government's deregulation agenda has already taken its toll on Australians. While the Prime Minister claims responsibility for the current low levels of unemployment, he neglects to mention the cost to the wages and conditions of many low paid employees.

"We are concerned for the well-being of the increasingly high numbers of people in casual employment, especially women. Too many Australians already have no access to very basic needs-based entitlements, such as sick leave, and there is nothing in these proposals which will improve the situation for casual employees," Rev. Poulos said.

"In addition, we believe the plans to reduce the role of the independent Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) and to replace its wage-setting function with a new 'Fair Pay Commission' are illconsidered," she said.

"We are concerned for the 1.5 million Australians who rely on minimum wage determinations – what parameters will the FPC use to determine the wages of these people? Will those parameters be based on need or the need for profit? How fair will the Fair Pay Commission really be?

"We are very concerned that the composition of this new Commission may well include only government and business representatives, with no input from trade unions or community groups. This would be a poor second to the current independent body which operates without fear or favour."

Rev. Poulos said that the Uniting Church would continue to push for equality and social justice in employment matters. "We are concerned that in the rush for profit, the basic needs of employees will be forgotten. We appeal to the Government to protect the needs of those most vulnerable from the excesses of the market, while actively working towards a better deal for all Australians at work."