Tens of thousands of Australian workers need a way off sub-standard WorkChoices agreements that have locked them into inferior pay and conditions for years to come.
The ACTU will today (Thursday) tell a Senate committee inquiring into the transition to Australia’s new industrial relations system that the abolition of Australian Workplace Agreements and other employment instruments remains unfinished business for the Rudd Government.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said unions commended the Government for ensuring that AWAs and individual statutory contracts would not be part of the future IR system.
But she said that did not solve the problem of current AWAs that in many cases would continue to operate until 2013. About 510,000 employees, or 6% of the workforce, are covered by these WorkChoices agreements.
Ms Burrow said WorkChoices contracts were used to rip away the safety net and take away conditions and entitlements such as overtime rates, weekend and night penalty rates, casual loadings and redundancy pay for thousands of workers.
“For too many workers, WorkChoices is alive and well,” Ms Burrow said. “In some cases they are earning less and have inferior conditions and rights compared to workmates employed in the same company and doing the same job.”
Ms Burrow said one of the worst examples of AWAs being used to create second-class workers was at Austral Bricks in outer Melbourne, where six workers on individual contracts earn $7500 a year less than those on the enterprise agreement.
“It is appalling that two employees can be doing the same job, side by side, but one will earn more than $500 a week less than the other simply because he is on an AWA issued under WorkChoices,” Ms Burrow said.
“These workers need an exit strategy so they are no longer disadvantaged compared to their colleagues.”
Unions are also seeking a stronger role for the industrial umpire to ensure that no workers are disadvantaged by the proposed modern awards.