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Ben Schneiders
July 2, 2009

LOWLY paid workers such as security guards and cleaners will be the big winners under Labor’s new Fair Work laws, unions say.

But employers warned that the new system, which took effect yesterday, would result in a sharp rise in unfair dismissal cases and greater costs for business.

Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union national secretary Louise Tarrant said many low-paid workers would now be able to collectively bargain with employers rather than rely on changes to award rates to boost their pay.

The introduction of laws to help low-income workers bargain and laws that required parties to negotiate in “good faith” were a marked shift from WorkChoices, Ms Tarrant said.

Other significant changes include enhanced unfair dismissal rights and a more significant role for the industrial umpire to settle disputes. Standards covering penalty rates and hours of work will start from January.

The LHMU was the first union to use the new industrial watchdog, Fair Work Australia, yesterday when it applied to represent 3000 hotel workers in negotiations. Australia Post could be the first employer to face a strike, with the Communications Workers Union set to apply for industrial action.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said his organisation would go on a recruitment drive this month as it took advantage of the improved environment for unions. But he said the top priority for members was job security.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace head David Gregory warned of a rise in unfair dismissal claims as thousands of businesses with 100 or fewer staff lose the exemption they had under WorkChoices.

But Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd said he was yet to be convinced the new laws would reverse the extremes of WorkChoices.

Fair Work Australia will replace several bodies including the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Workplace Ombudsman.

Speaking at yesterday’s launch of Fair Work Australia in Sydney, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the laws would provide a “decent safety net”, but enterprise bargaining would secure conditions in workplaces – not decisions by the independent umpire.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday called for restraint amid claims that the laws could produce increased wage demands in the manufacturing sector, where 1300 agreements have expired. But the Australian Industry Group’s Peter Nolan said that in Victoria, wage settlements so far had typically been around 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent. “We don’t expect to see any massive outbreak of industrial activity,” he said.



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