The Senate hearings into industrial relations reforms that start tomorrow will put the spotlight on the Liberal and National parties and whether they want to retain WorkChoices.
The Senate Education Employment and Workplace Relations Committee will begin public hearings into the Fair Work Bill in Brisbane on Tuesday, moving onto Adelaide and Perth in subsequent days.
The hearings will allow Senators to hear first hand about the damage that has been done to working Australians by the former Liberal-National Government and continues to be caused by companies like Telstra and Cochlear while WorkChoices remains in place.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the Senate inquiry was important because it would put to rest the scaremongering and misinformation that has been spread by hysterical and self-interested employer groups who were the cheer squad for WorkChoices.
He urged Senators to consider the facts of the Bill, not the distortions generated by extreme business groups.
Coalition opposition to the Fair Work Bill in the Senate would leave almost 5 million Australian workers with no unfair dismissal rights, and prevent close to 2 million from having better protection from an expanded safety net of employment standards, Mr Lawrence said.
He said the Fair Work Bill had to be amended and passed by the Senate as soon as possible to safeguard workers from exploitation and discrimination.
“The Coalition have been all over the shop about their position on the Bill,” Mr Lawrence said.
“Malcolm Turnbull and the rest of the Liberal and National parties must accept that Work Choices was the main reason they lost power over a year ago, and the election gave the Rudd Government a mandate to abolish the legislation.
“But a large section of the Coalition party room refuses to accept this reality and remain wedded to WorkChoices.
“If they block this Bill, they will be held to account by the Australian people for the retention of an IR system that has ripped of and exploited working Australians.”
In its submission to the inquiry, the ACTU has welcomed the legislation as going a long way towards restoring rights at work after the Howard-Costello years.
But the peak union body has also called for the legislation to be improved in several areas to fully deliver on the Rudd Government’s promise to abolish WorkChoices.
The main broken election commitment concerns the limit on what workers and employers can bargain about and include in a workplace agreement.
The Bill prevents workers from bargaining for better unfair dismissal protections and for improved access to advice and assistance from unions in their workplace.
Additionally, the right to request flexible work for family reasons is meaningless if an employer can still refuse on business grounds without any right to review; and the scope for multi-employer bargaining needs to made consistent with international labour standards.