Even though the federal election is 7 months away, employment and industrial relations policy is already an important point of contention between the parties.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a second tranche of amendments to the Fair Work Act. These amendments would provide increased protection for employees against sudden roster changes and a greater number of grounds upon which employees could request flexible work arrangements. Ms Gillard has flagged that she will announce further amendments shortly.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has criticised Ms Gillard’s amendments as imposing further regulation on struggling businesses. On the other hand, Greens Workplace Spokesman Adam Bandt has criticised the amendments for not going far enough to protect carers. Mr Bandt will also press for the right to request flexible work to become an enforceable right through the Fair Work Commission.
On the other side of the fence, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has tabled a Bill that introduces a number of criminal offences intended to improve the conduct of union officials. Under the Bill, it would be an offence for union officials to breach a court order applying to their union, improperly use information gained from their position, intentionally or recklessly use their position to gain an advantage, or fail to exercise their powers in good faith in the union’s best interests. With maximum penalties of $340,000 and 5 years in prison, these criminal offences should encourage improved financial management and curb illegal industrial action.
Independent Bob Katter has also featured, introducing a Bill to provide the Fair Work Commission with a general power to arbitrate disputes, as well as an obligation to arbitrate disputes that remain unresolved after 3 months.
With 7 months until the election, and Coalition policy largely unannounced, expect further significant movement in this space.
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