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Posted Fri Mar 20, 2009 2:45am AEDT
Updated Fri Mar 20, 2009 7:16am AEDT

The Senate changed the Bill to expand the number of businesses that would have special unfair dismissal rules.

The Senate has passed the Government’s Fair Work Bill in an amended form after debating it into the early hours of this morning.

But the amended bill is likely to be rejected when it returns to the Lower House and that is already prompting talk of another election.

The Senate changed the Bill to expand the number of businesses that would have special unfair dismissal rules.

The Government wants it limited to firms with less than 15 staff, the Senate says it should be any business with the equivalent of 20 full-time staff.

Human services Minister Joe Ludwig says the Government has a mandate for 15.

“We put the detail of what we would actually do and I am here now doing just that,” Mr Ludwig said.

“It was crystal clear what we were going to do when we got to office.”

Family First’s Steve Fielding has questioned if the Government would dare use it as a trigger for another election.

“Tell this chamber how you’re going to go to the public with a double dissolution around 15,” Senator Fielding said.

Greens Leader Bob Brown has warned the Opposition, Family First and independent senator Nick Xenophon that if they insist on their change, they risk the Government calling another election.

“Accept the judgement of the people in 2007 or face the ire of the people in 2009,” Senator Brown said.

The Bill goes back to the House of Representatives later this morning where the Government is likely to reject the Senate’s changes.

Patricia Karvelas, Political correspondent | March 19, 2009

THE Rudd Government faces the defeat of its workplace legislation today unless Julia Gillard agrees to last-minute changes to Labor’s unfair dismissal policy to appease crossbench senators.

Independent senators Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding are threatening to vote against the Fair Work Bill unless they secure a higher threshold for unfair dismissal provisions so a larger number of new employees is exempt from making claims for 12months.

Both senators want the Government to define small business as employing up to 20 staff, rather than Labor’s preferred 15.

But the Coalition, which has not revealed how it will vote on the bill, acknowledged that several of Labor’s amendments resolved their objections to the bill.

The Opposition’s workplace relations spokesman Michael Keenan told The Australian yesterday the Government had made various concessions that made the bill more appealing.

“They have essentially acknowledged the concerns that we have about greenfields (new project) agreements and they have accommodated them,” he said. “Our concerns were that the way they had structured them was going to make it very difficult to get projects off the ground without the approval of union officials.

“We are glad the Government’s seen the sense of some of the things we’ve proposed.”

Mr Keenan’s comments signal that the Coalition is moving to a position where it can support the bill, pending movement on unfair dismissal laws. The Opposition is trying to put itself in the same political position as the crossbenchers, in an effort to lose the stigma of being the party of Work Choices.

The Greens have managed to secure another amendment to the IR legislation that eliminates a clause, also contained in Work Choices, allowing employers who are followers of the Brethren religious group to get a special certificate exempting them on the grounds of their faith from the right of entry regime.

Ms Gillard, the Workplace Relations Minister, urged senators to “get rid of Work Choices”.

“We are insisting on our election policy – that is what the Australian people voted for,” she told ABC’s Lateline program.

But Senator Xenophon told The Australian he would not be able to support the bill unless Ms Gillard compromised on unfair dismissal.

“It puts me in a very difficult position,” he said. “I can’t guarantee the success of the bill unless that issue is resolved.”

It comes after a business survey revealed nearly half of all employers feared the new industrial laws would lead to job losses and higher business costs. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive, Peter Anderson, said negotiations in the Senate on changes to Labor’s Fair Work Bill were crucial to jobs.

Mr Anderson said the chamber’s survey of investor confidence found 47 per cent of small business owners believed the legislation would weaken their ability to maintain current employment levels. More than half – 54 per cent – believed removing the current exemption for small businesses employing fewer than 100 staff from unfair dismissal laws would dissuade them from employing more staff.

Ms Gillard was forced to concede yesterday the Government would need to intervene to ensure retail and restaurant businesses were not made to pay workers more, after her plan for revamping award minimum employment conditions was drawn up.

Proposed pay rises that could flow to many workers from a government-commissioned review by the industrial umpire – which have sparked warnings from employers of large-scale job losses – challenge Ms Gillard’s claim that Labor’s industrial regime would not cost jobs.

“I acknowledge that there is an issue here for restaurant owners that they are desperately concerned about,” she said.,25197,25208947-5013404,00.html

Michelle Grattan | March 17, 2009 – 10:35AM

The Senate is likely to widen the net for small businesses exempted from the unfair-dismissal requirements in the Government’s Fair Work Bill, as the Opposition sharpens its attack on the bill.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard met Family First senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon yesterday, but sticking points remained with each.

Both favour exempting more small businesses from unfair-dismissal procedures. Senator Fielding wants to exclude those with the equivalent of fewer than 20 full-time workers; Senator Xenophon would accept a head count of fewer than 20. The Government is persisting with a head count of fewer than 15.

The Opposition wants fewer than 25 full-time equivalents, well below WorkChoices’ 100, but would support the cross-benchers’ position when its own amendment failed.

The Government signalled last night that it is willing to give ground on unions’ right of entry to workplaces but wouldn’t go as far as Senator Fielding’s demand to exempt all small firms.

With its final position on the bill still to be decided but apparently toughening, the shadow cabinet will put extra amendments, described as technical, to today’s Coalition parties meeting.

In Parliament, the Opposition lashed out at Labor’s “job-destroying industrial relations changes”, while the Government claimed the Coalition still backed WorkChoices.

Challenging the Opposition to state its current position on WorkChoices, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: “I thought their position was that WorkChoices was dead. It is part dead, is it?”

Mr Rudd pointed to the “very pathetic spectacle” of Malcolm Turnbull being reined in not only on industrial relations and climate change but “right across the board”. Coalition policy development was “paralysed by the opportunism which arises from its own internal leadership conflict”.