I am pleased to rise and make a contribution in respect of the bill before us,
the Workplace Rights Advocate (Repeal) Bill 2008.
The intention of this bill is to repeal the Workplace Rights
Advocate Act 2005 and to make consequential amendments to the Victorian Civil
and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 and the Public Sector Employment (Award
Entitlements) Act 2006.
The main purpose of the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate
Act was to establish the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate to provide
information about, and shield Victorian workers from, unfair industrial
relations practices that may have occurred as a result of the then federal
government’s WorkChoices legislation. The office had the ability to support and
assist Victorian workers, to investigate claims that were brought before them,
to promote fair workplace practices, to monitor the impact of the WorkChoices
legislation and to educate the community on proper and fair industrial relations
practices. It was later expanded to deal with individual matters as well as
systemic matters associated with the ill effects of the WorkChoices legislation.
Whilst many of the cases the office dealt with were as a result
of employees contacting it, there were also numerous cases of employers who were
confused about their roles and responsibilities in the haze of WorkChoices. It
was incredibly complicated, they could not understand it, and they knew it was
extremely unpopular. As a result, they needed to be quite clear about their
abilities in that climate.
As members will recall, WorkChoices was primarily designed to
move workers out of awards and collective bargaining agreements and into
Australian workplace agreements or individual contracts — whatever you want to
call them — in a supposed bid to improve employment levels. The Office of the
Workplace Rights Advocate had to be established because there was a lack of
available information from the federal government to allow the public to make
informed decisions about the consequences of signing individual employment
WorkChoices was deeply and I believe fundamentally flawed and
as a result of that proved to be a failure. While the then Howard government’s
rhetoric claimed it was introduced to create jobs, it lowered the average price
of labour per head, leaving the household sector with less disposable income and
so essentially causing the economy to shrink. The Australian public showed in
the 2007 election that it certainly did not agree with WorkChoices. Since that
time the Rudd Labor government has begun to scrap WorkChoices and implement the
Forward with Fairness policy.
As a result of that, we now have this bill before us. Those
changes have been substantially made now, and the Victorian government has
conducted a review and made an assessment. It has concluded that the
Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate has fulfilled its role in protecting
Victorian employees and that without the draconian WorkChoices legislation and
the exploitation of Australian workplace agreements, the Workplace Rights
Advocate Act of 2005 has become irrelevant and unnecessary.
It has been decided that Business Victoria and federal agencies
are now capable of providing and will provide in an appropriate fashion the
services that were previously provided by the office. The apparent improvement
in the work of the federal Ombudsman since the election of the Rudd government
has also decreased the difficulty of this decision.
As the government has resolved to close the Office of the
Workplace Rights Advocate it is appropriate that the legislation creating its
office be repealed.
Without the workplace rights advocate legislation in place an
amendment must be made to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act of
1998, which I mentioned at the beginning of my contribution, as it states in
section 73(2C) that:
- The Workplace Rights Advocate appointed under the Workplace Rights Advocate
Act 2005 may intervene in a proceeding at any time.
A second adjustment, or consequential amendment, must also be
made to the definition of the workplace rights advocate in section 3(1) of the
Public Sector Employment (Award Entitlements) Act 2006.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate all
the people who have worked for the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate over
these past few years on their excellent work in assisting thousands of
Victorians, both workers and employers, through a particularly testing period. I
also take this opportunity to particularly thank Anthony Lawrence, who helped so
many people during his term as the workplace rights advocate.
In my previous life, a situation involving workers with
disabilities in an inner Melbourne factory was brought to my attention. I became
instantly aware of the operation of the Office of the Workplace Rights Advocate
and at that time was drawn into knowing more about it in a very practical sense.
The issue was taken up very quickly with the direct involvement of the Office of
the Workplace Rights Advocate, which worked with not only the worker concerned
but also his family. I was really impressed with the sensitivities that were
demonstrated and the work that was done with that family.
I was representing another union at that time, which did not
have coverage in the situation, but it was a really powerful thing to be able to
refer someone to a government agency that you knew could possibly make a
difference to that person’s life. The work of the office in that case was very
thorough, it was professional and it was caring, and justice was delivered to
those workers in that particular factory. It was a good outcome for those
directly involved and it was also heartening for me to witness how a government
instrument can make a real difference when you had thought there was little hope
or no avenue by which to rectify an injustice.
For those bleak years when all workers had WorkChoices wrapped
around them tightly like cellophane wrap, the Office of the Workplace Rights
Advocate represented a light of hope for individuals. The office was able to
collect substantial data on the effects of WorkChoices as well as explore the
systemic nature of the invidious WorkChoices legislation.
In response to the previous speaker, who stated that he
believed the whole original act and the office were nothing but a political
stunt, I simply refer people to the annual reports of the Office of the
Workplace Rights Advocate that have been tabled in this chamber. They are
comprehensive reports, and they provide case studies of real people with real
problems, which they were able to have rectified. On that basis, I commend this
bill to the house.