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Australian Industrial Relations Ammendments 2005

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The 2005 Industrial Relations legislation has been the latest amendment to Howard’s Workplace Relations Act of 1996. The act was introduced shortly after the Howard government came into power and completely replaced the previous Labor government's Industrial Relations Act (1988). The latest changes under the umbrella "WorkChoices" is the most comprehensive change to industrial relations in Australia for almost a century.

Among the changes, the redefining of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) has come under much scrutiny. Throughout the years from 1904 to 2006 the Australian Industrial Relations Commission created Awards which set the minimum terms and conditions of employment for people who worked for certain employers. They also registered trade unions and dealt with disputes between unions (acting on behalf of employees) and employers. The AIRC also dealt with unfair dismissal applications. Under the 2005 Workchoices laws the AIRC’s powers have largely been transferred to the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC). The AIRC's will play a diminished role now including award "modernisation", limited dispute settling powers and hearing unfair dismissal applications. As a result there will be less representation on behalf of the trade unions and more of an emphasis on business concerns. The AIRC was largely seen as being independent and providing fair decisions for those involved. Unions mockingly call the AFPC the Australian Low Pay Commission and claim its ties to the government are too strong saying it is less autonomous. This move could see more bias decisions being made as the commission is less independent.

All corporations will be affected by these new changes. Howard has seen to this by forming a single national industrial system to replace the separate state and federal systems. This is another step in centralizing power to the commonwealth and gives the government much more control over Australia’s labor.


The bill was formulated “behind closed doors” and was introduced by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews. Due to the nature of modern day politics, the Executive has all the power in forming the bill and would have tailored it to suit them. They also were responsible for rushing it through parliament meaning it did not receive sufficient attention.

The executive dictated the terms of the reform, and are seeing it played out as they had planned. Their role in formation has made sure that the bill is being implemented to their liking. No high court decision relating to the new laws has had an outcome that was not in favour of the government and so serious amendments have been made to what Howard refers to as “the core principles of the bill”.


The bill was introduced into the Australian House of Representatives on November 2, 2005 by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews who read highlights from the 687-page Bill. When it entered the Parliament, the opposition was not provided with enough copies for sufficient scrutiny. During Question Time, Opposition members continually interjected while Government members were speaking, leading the Speaker (and later the Deputy Speaker) to remove 11 of them. The Bill passed through the House of Representatives on 10 November and was introduced into the Senate later that day. The Bill passed, with amendments, by the Senate, by a vote of 35-33 on 2 December 2005. Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce threatened to “cross the floor” and vote against the bill, however party politics prevailed and the bill was passed with his vote.

Legislation is passed through parliament so it can be subject to rigorous debating and consideration. Some bills can take months of deliberation before they can be passed. However in the case of IR it shows the real power of the executive if they wish to pass a bill quickly. This does not allow the bill to develop and means it is very one sided as it was formed and approved by the government.


Seeing as the changes are so extensive and effect people in the populated labour area, much resistance has developed. The resistance stems primarily from Unions and the Opposition however the unrest has prompted little reaction from the government.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (which serves as an umbrella for many unions) represents around 1.8 million workers. They launched a massive campaign in retaliation to the new laws when they came into effect. Titled "Your Rights at Work", the campaign involves direct action such as mass rallies and marches, judicial action and, potentially, industrial action. It also involved advertising on television and radio. The ACTU's campaign (with an allocated $8 million) prompted a counter-campaign by the Government promoting the changes. Stage one of the campaign preceded the release of the legislation and cost around $45.7 million, including advertisements, information booklets and a call centre. The ALP, minor parties and the ACTU have attacked the advertising campaign challenging the expenditure in the High Court of Australia by the on the grounds that the expenditure was not approved by Parliament. On September 29, the High Court rejected this argument in a majority decision. The government defended the expenditures arguing that it is normal procedure when introducing radical change, mentioning the example of the GST advertising.

The ACTU recently have approached the newly formed Fair Play Commission for an increase in the minimum wage. They justified the 4% wage increase arguing the cost of living has also increased. APPENDIX A. The process will be drawn out and a decision on the matter is expected around November. This is an attempt by the ATCU to better the working conditions for those they represent.

The actions of the ACTU have greatly raised public awareness on the issue and inturn, public opinion on the matter has been elevated. So far the government has not changed its stance on IR despite the strong opposition.

Individual State Governments have also opposed the changes.



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