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    Gov't Hypocrisy over individual contracts

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    Transcript of doorstop interview with ACTU Secretary Greg Combet.

    GREG COMBET - ACTU:
    Yesterday, the Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, criticised the ACTU's TV ads on the grounds that he didn't think they represented reality, and that he thought they were misleading and deceptive.

    But, in truth, of course, our ads depict everyday workplace reality. And Kevin Andrews has been found out today, because within his own department, Kevin Andrews and his departmental officers are deliberately frustrating collective bargaining processes that the department's employees wish to participate in, deliberately frustrating employees having a fair and free choice between individual bargaining and collective bargaining, and is breaking his own laws.

    Employees in the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, a number of them recently were given this piece of paper, conveniently with a tick or a cross in the box saying, I acknowledge my commitment to sign an Australian workplace agreement. They were given that. And later on, the piece of paper had to be withdrawn because the document itself breaches Kevin Andrews' own Workplace Relations Act.

    Now, what a hypocrite this fellow is. To be criticising the ACTU ads, when at the same time, Kevin Andrews has got people under pressure to sign individual contracts in his own department, and indeed, giving some of those staff a piece of paper, pre-ticked to indicate their preparedness to enter into an individual contract.

    Our TV advertisements depict workplace reality, depict the sort of pressure that people are experiencing, show the fact of the matter, that under individual contracts, employers can cut people's take-home pay, at a time when many people are struggling to keep their heads above water.

    Our ads are not misleading and deceptive. They show workplace reality, and we will not be taking the advertisements off-air. We want to alert people in the Australian community to the sorts of changes the government is proposing to make to industrial relations.

    These changes are an abuse of the power the government has, with control of both houses of parliament, and they will hurt working people and their families. And we will not take these ads off the air.

    REPORTER:
    As the architect of the government changes and what he does to own staff, what do you fear for the rest of Australia?

    COMBET:
    When Kevin Andrews places people in his own department under pressure to sign individual contracts, and indeed provide pieces of paper that breach the Workplace Relations Act, how on earth can you expect the government to treat people in the community more broadly fairly?

    The individual contracts the government wants to push down people's throats have the potential to cut their take-home pay and destroy their job security.

    REPORTER:

    Kevin Andrews has said that he won't comment on what's going on his department, because it has nothing to do with him. What do you think the minister should do?

    COMBET:
    Well, that is an absurd proposition, of course. Kevin Andrews is the minister responsible for the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. He should take responsibility for what is going on there. There are many people in the department who wish to collectively bargain. Some of them have come here to show their support for that position today.

    And Minister Andrews and his departmental officers will not respect the choice of those people to collectively bargain. He should take responsibility, respect people's choice and practice what he preaches. The par... the Liberal Party and the government preach fair choice. And yet they don't respect that choice amongst their own employees.

    REPORTER:
    Mr Andrews actually said that he can (indistinct) final agreement. Is it your understanding that that's the case, or has it only come to light with exposure?

    COMBET:
    The government, for quite some time now, with its own employees in the Commonwealth public service, has placed people under pressure to sign individual contracts. In fact, the policy in Kevin Andrews' department at the moment is that all new employees must sign an individual contract. They do not get a fair choice to choose to have a collective agreement.

    REPORTER:
    (Indistinct) embarrassing situation for Mr Andrews.

    COMBET:
    Well, Mr Andrews I think ... What all this is demonstrating about Mr Andrews is that he's got a lot to learn about industrial relations. And how can you have a minister with a lot to learn about industrial relations at the same time changing the laws in radical ways that will affect working people and their families?

    I think the government needs to go back to the drawing board and be true to some basic principles of respect and dignity for working people and giving people fair and free choices.

    REPORTER:
    But come July, this kind of subject will fall under (indistinct) the minister.

    COMBET:
    That's not right, of course. From the first of July, the government will gain control of the Senate, that is, it will have a legislative blank cheque, and be able to make any laws that it likes. And it has clearly signalled that it intends abusing that power, by bringing in industrial relations laws that will hurt working people and their families.

    However, unions are determined to fight, and to stand up for people's rights. And people in the community want us to do that, they support our campaign. All of our research shows that. We're reaching out to people with our advertising, and we intend bringing political pressure back on the government, to change its mind.

    REPORTER:
    So with that, obviously, it's going to bring government control as of July. Does that leave unions with only really one option, and that's strike action (indistinct)?

    COMBET:
    Look, we're protesting against these laws. Next week, there is a week of protest activity around the country, in all major capital cities and a number of regional areas, to indicate people's opposition to these laws. But that's really only the start of the campaign.

    We've got our TV advertising campaign running, we're talking to tens of thousands of people in workplaces across the country, we'll be protesting next week, and there will be further protest activity.

    REPORTER:
    A group of academics today released a damning report card on the workplace relations changes. Are you happy with their assessment of the situation?

    COMBET:
    I've only seen a summary of the report at the moment. But what that summary has told me is that this group of seventeen academics, who've looked at the proposed industrial relations laws independently - and they are labour market and economic specialists, these academics - they have all concluded that there is no ground for the argument the government is making.

    The government is saying that these industrial relations changes will create jobs. The people who are professional, and expert in these arguments, are saying it will not create jobs, it will only disadvantage people. I tend to agree with the academics.

    REPORTER:
    (Indistinct) there's reports today saying that Kevin Andrews is looking at standardising working hours at forty a week. What's your view on that?

    COMBET:
    Yes, I read a report in the Financial Review today, to the effect that in the new minimum standards the government's going to create it may well increase the ordinary working week. And that is that people who are on a thirty-five hour week, or a thirty-six or a thirty-eight hour week, are likely to have their ordinary hours of work extended to forty hours a week.

    It's just another example of ... [Sound of a car alarm]

    The suggestion that the government will extend the ordinary working week to forty hours is just another example of how this government is going to hurt working people and their families. We've had a thirty-eight hour week as a standard working week for most of the work force for many years now, the better part of twenty years. And yet the government is proposing to take that away.

    Now, if that report is not right, let's have Minister Kevin Andrews, or Prime Minister John Howard, come out and guarantee that they are not going to increase the ordinary working week for Australian workers.

    REPORTER:
    But isn't ... to put it in two ways, is that a lot of people work ... most people seem to work forty hour weeks anyway, thirty-eight hour week would be pretty hard to do for most people. Is it maybe recognising that the... people's working weeks are longer than they used to be, or is it a way to avoid paying more overtime?

    COMBET:
    Well, the ... it's true that of course a lot of people work far more flexibly than they used to. And they do that willingly, and it's contributed to productivity and efficiency in the economy.

    But underpinning it all are some fundamental standards. And that is that your ordinary hours of work are, generally for most people, thirty-eight hours per week. And over and above that, a lot of people are entitled to additional overtime pay.

    Now, that's an important standard for many people. What we don't want to see is that standard swept away in these changes that the government is proposing. You know, Minister Andrews should come out and make it very clear today that the government will not increase the ordinary working week beyond thirty-eight hours to forty hours, as he's suggested. We demand that he comes and gives people that guarantee.

    REPORTER:
    So, effectively, you see this as way of the government helping companies save money on overtime.

    COMBET:
    Look, the whole of the government's industrial relations changes are designed to make people work harder and longer for less pay.

    1 July Sky Channel Meeting
    All PSA members are directed to attend the Unions NSW SkyChannel meeting explaining the Coalition's proposed industrial relations changes. Gather at 8:30am for 9:00am start. Check your nearest venue. Use flex time. All agencies have been asked by the Public Employment Office to make flex time available and vary core time if necessary.

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