May 26th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd still in front

EDITORIAL: East Timor: end of the Fretilin era?

HOUSING: Soaring house prices give illusion of wealth

LABOR PARTY: Sir Rod Eddington, Labor's business guru

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Vital issues in wheat single-desk decision

OPINION: Family First takes on Howard's workplace laws

DRUGS CONFERENCE: Reality check needed on illicit drugs

SCHOOLS: Choice would be eroded by centralisation

INTELLIGENCE CORNER: Shssh - don't mention the war!

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Politics could worsen global health pandemic

QUARANTINE: Drought used as excuse to relax quarantine standards

STRAWS IN THE WIND: No kangaroo meat - thank you very much / Tony Blair - a class act / Vladimir the Cruel / Turkey - between a rock and a hard place

UNITED STATES: US Supreme Court bans partial-birth abortion

WORLD AFFAIRS: Islam: the questions which must be answered

States more accountable than Canberra (letter)

Problems facing Brisbane-to-Melbourne rail-link (letter)

News Weekly informative, timely (letter)

The media and freedom of speech (letter)

CINEMA: A luminous film of great beauty

BOOKS: WHAT'S LEFT? How Liberals Lost Their Way, by Nick Cohen

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Family First takes on Howard's workplace laws

by Steve Fielding

News Weekly, May 26, 2007
Family First has been fighting for the Howard Government to make commonsense changes to its workplace laws, writes Senator Steve Fielding.
Senator Steve Fielding.

Family First took a strong stand against the Howard Government's workplace changes from day one. In fact, our first media release, issued in July 2005, was entitled “What about meal breaks and public holidays for workers?”

The release was in response to the Government's proposed minimum conditions for workers, where the Government removed guarantees not only for meal breaks and public holidays, but also overtime and penalty rates.

It was obvious from day one that there were problems with the Government's laws, and Family First has been relentless in our fight for the Government to make commonsense changes.

In that release, I wrote: “The average Australian won't accept the idea that people could be required to work seven days a week and not get a meal break or work lengthy periods of overtime without being paid penalty rates. And they won't accept not being guaranteed pay for taking a public holiday.”

Undermining family life

Family First voted against the Work Choices legislation because the changes undermined family life and confirmed my view that many “family-friendly” policies are not family-friendly at all. Rather, they are market-friendly.

I promised in that release to take up these issues with the Federal Government on behalf of Australian workers and their families, and I have kept my promise.

Who really believes a young checkout operator at Coles or Safeway is able to “bargain” with their employer about their wages and conditions?

Family First has been the only party arguing for a balanced middle position. The Government was stubbornly refusing to make changes while the Opposition just wanted to recklessly rip up the laws.

As part of Family First's campaign to lobby the Government to change its Work Choices legislation to make it fairer for workers and their families, Family First introduced its own Bill into the Parliament to give back to the more than eight million Australian workers on agreements and contracts what the Government took away.

Family First's Bill would ensure:

• workers who have to work on public holidays will be guaranteed a minimum of another day off, paid at time-and-a-half;

• workers will be guaranteed an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes after five hours;

• workers will be guaranteed overtime at a minimum rate of time-and-a-half;

• workers who work anti-family hours will be guaranteed penalty rates at a minimum of time-and-a-half; and

• workers will be guaranteed their redundancy entitlements.

I believe that Family First's legislation strikes a real balance between the needs of workers and the needs of small business, most of which are family businesses.

I believe the changes we have proposed improve the Bill without imposing heavy costs on small businesses, which employ the vast majority of Australians.

Family First has worked hard to sell the merits of its Bill, particularly with Government and business, to ensure workers and their families are not worse off.

I am pleased the Government has listened, and responded, to Family First's efforts. This is evidence of our influence and our relentless pursuit of commonsense solutions for Australian workers and their families.

I have told Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey that Family First will wait to scrutinise the detail of the Government's announced changes to ensure workers and their families will genuinely not be worse off.

Another success Family First has achieved is establishing a Senate inquiry into our legislation. Two weeks ago, its Workplace Relations Bill was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education.

The committee will hold a public inquiry and report back to the Parliament by June 14.

No doubt the key “stakeholders”, such as business groups and unions, will be lining up to present submissions to the committee. But we believe it is important that community groups, as well as members of the public, participate as well.

Vocal lobbyists

That is the only way the committee can understand the real views of everyday workers and their families, as opposed to the vocal lobbyists whose voice is always heard.

I strongly urge you to write to the Senate Committee with your thoughts about the Government's Work Choices legislation and Family First's Bill. Your letter need not be long; one page is enough.

This is an important community issue and we need to do all we can to defend family life and decent conditions for workers.

- Steve Fielding is federal leader of Family First and a senator for Victoria.

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