WorkChoices removed and replaced

By: Graham Gardiner

The former Howard Government's controversial WorkChoices legislation will be officially dismantled after new legislation was introduced to Federal Parliament by

The former Howard Government's controversial WorkChoices legislation will be officially dismantled after new legislation was introduced to Federal Parliament by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard.

Ms Gillard said the Fair Work bill would create a fairer system for both workers and employers.

The Fair Work bill now covers all workers under unfair dismissal laws, establishes Fair Work Australia, legislates for "good faith" collective bargaining and does not differentiate between a union or non-union agreement.

Ms Gillard told Parliament the bill delivers on the Federal Government's election promises.

"The bill being introduced today is based on the enduring principle of fairness while meeting the needs of the modern age," she said.

"The bill delivers a fair and comprehensive safety net of minimum employment conditions that cannot be stripped away - a system that has at its heart bargaining in good faith at the enterprise level as this is essential to maximise workplace cooperation and improve productivity and create rising national prosperity."

The legislation establishes Fair Work Australia which will facilitate and approve collective bargaining agreements, adjust minimum wages and deal with unfair dismissal claims and workplace disputes.

Fair Work Australia (FWA) will replace six other existing bodies, including the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the Australian Fair Pay Commission, the Workplace Ombudsman and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

If an employer refuses to take part in bargaining, FWA can order them to take part if it finds that a majority of employees want to collectively bargain.

Ms Gillard says the bill also does not recognise any difference between union or non-union agreements.

"Instead an agreement is made when approved by a valid majority of the employees to whom it will apply," she said.

"A union that acted as a bargaining representative during the negotiations may apply to be covered by the agreement.

"This new framework is premised by good faith bargaining."

To be approved by FWA, agreements must be ruled as making employees "better off overall" and must comply with the 10 National Employment Standards.

The 10 National Employment Standards which include such provisions as a 38-hour week, four weeks' annual leave and a right to request flexible working arrangements are included in the legislation.

Low income workers will now also be able to use enterprise bargaining.

Pattern bargaining will not be allowed and employers can only lock out employees in response to action taken by workers.

All employees will now be eligible to to apply for an unfair dismissal claim.

However, a worker employed with a firm of less than 15 people must be employed with the firm for at least a year before they are eligible.

Those who work for larger firms will be eligible after six months.

The bill also includes new modern awards which will begin on January 1, 2010.

Ms Gillard says the new awards must make provision for individual flexibility arrangements, which means a worker can agree with an employee on specific arrangements which can be allowed.

The awards will be reviewed every four years by FWA.

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