Almost five million small business employees will have fewer rights and could suffer more bullying and harassment at work if the Howard Government succeeds in pushing its workplace changes through the Senate in the next session of Parliament says the ACTU.

Commenting in reply to the Employment Minister’s announcement today (Fri 29 Oct 2004) of new workplace legislation, ACTU Sharan Burrow said:

Unfair dismissal of small business employees

Millions of small business employees could be sacked for no reason under the Government’s plan to exempt small businesses from unfair dismissal laws.

Exempting small business from unfair dismissal laws is a green light for those who would mistreat others.

It sends a signal to small business managers that they can treat staff badly and if people speak up they can be sacked with no warning.

This is a recipe for unsafe workplaces – especially for women. The current dismissal laws only prohibit unfair behaviour and are not a major burden on small business.

Less than 0.3% of small businesses experience a federal unfair dismissal claim in an average year.

There is no evidence for the Government’s repeated claims that unfair dismissal laws hurt jobs growth.

In a recent comprehensive Commonwealth survey, less than 1% of small businesses gave unfair dismissal laws as a reason for not hiring staff.

The Coalition has repeatedly failed to get Parliamentary approval for its plan because it is a radical move that undermines the basic protections for people at work.

No redundancy pay for small business employees

The Government’s proposed new law to deny small business employees redundancy pay is an attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

Up to 100,000 people working in small businesses are retrenched every year and they face an average of five months unemployment (22 weeks).

People are working in small business for up to twenty years and yet if they are unlucky enough to be laid off they walk away with nothing unless there is redundancy pay.

The fact is around 70% of businesses are profitable when they make people redundant and downsize.

This is a classic case of sour grapes on the part of the Howard Government. The Government made a lengthy submission to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission but, in the end, lost the argument on the basis of facts.

The Howard Government now plans to ignore the independent umpire and reduce entitlements for people who are laid off.

Electrolux decision

The Government’s announcement that it will legislate to validate existing Certified Agreements is vague and unclear. 

Unions are concerned that this could be a smokescreen for an attack on employee rights.

Certified Agreements are the cornerstone of our industrial system and yet the High Court’s recent decision has put them under a cloud. Unions, like business, want certainty on this issue but it is unclear exactly what the Coalition proposes.”