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WorkChoices: Howard Announces Details Of Industrial Relations Changes

Following a lockup briefing for industry representatives in Canberra this morning, the details of the government’s industrial relations changes were announced.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, announced the changes, nicknamed “Workchoices”, at a press conference.

  • Listen to the Howard-Andrews press conference (38m)

This is the text of a media release from the Prime Minister, John Howard.


In May of this year I announced in Parliament the framework of the Government’s proposals to reform Australia’s workplace relations system. Today the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and I are delighted to release ‘WorkChoices – A New Workplace Relations System’ which explains, in detail, how the new workplace relations system will work.

The reforms that are detailed today are the next step in the evolution of a more decentralised workplace relations system. The reforms are major but not extreme. They are sensible and fair steps to further strengthen the Australian economy and bring forth the next wave of productivity improvement which will benefit all Australians.

A workplace relations system is only as good as the contribution it makes to the strength of the economy. All the regulations in the world will not save somebody’s job, or push up wages, if our economy is weak or if firms are uncompetitive.

Through its reforms my Government has transformed the Australian economy into one of the strongest in the world. More than 1.7 million jobs have been created, the real wages of Australian workers have risen by 14.9 per cent, the unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 30 years and interest rates have been significantly reduced.

Today, as never before, Australia is a workers’ market.

The Australian economy has come along way, but we can’t stand still. More needs to be done.

Australia’s high living standards rely on the productivity of our workplaces. Just as today’s prosperity has been built by Australians working smarter over the past decade, so we must unleash a new burst of productivity growth to secure our future prosperity.

That is why the Government is committed to further reform of our workplace relations system. Legislation to give effect to our proposals will be introduced shortly.

‘WorkChoices’ has three major elements:

  • The introduction of a national workplace relations system for the first time;
  • The simplification of the agreement making process;
  • A better balancing of the unfair dismissal laws.

A new and totally independent Australian Fair Pay Commission will be established to deal in a less legalistic and adversarial fashion with such matters as minimum award wages.

For the first time, the Australian Government will establish a national system of workplace relations. The Australian workplace relations structure is too complicated with more than 130 separate pieces of industrial relations legislation, more than 4000 different awards and six distinct workplace relations systems operating across the country. For these reasons, the Australian Government is moving towards one, simpler national workplace relations system called WorkChoices.

WorkChoices will establish a simpler system of negotiating workplace agreements. All workplace agreements must meet as a minimum, the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard (this includes annual leave, personal/carer’s leave, parental leave, maximum 38 ordinary hours of work and the minimum award wage).

When agreements are negotiated matters such as penalty rates and leave loadings can be the subject of bargaining. If the relevant award conditions are not specifically addressed in that agreement these conditions will continue to apply in the agreement. Such matters can only be modified or removed by specific provisions in an agreement.

The Government will also provide strong protection for those workers who continue to be covered by awards in the new system. The Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard (annual leave, personal/carer’s leave, parental leave, maximum ordinary hours and minimum award wage) will only prevail over existing awards if the Fair Pay and Conditions Standard is more generous.

Long service leave, superannuation, notice of termination and jury service will not be able to be included in new federal awards but will remain in existing awards for current and new employees. Other existing award conditions such as penalty rates, overtime, public holidays and rest breaks will also remain in awards. Consistent with current Government policy some matters like union picnic days and trade union training leave will become unenforceable in awards.

Unfair dismissal laws cost Australian workers jobs. That is why the Australian Government will exempt businesses that employ up to and including 100 employees from unfair dismissal laws. In a business with more than 100 employees, an employee must work six months before they are able to claim unfair dismissal.

Protection against unlawful termination (termination on the basis of a discriminatory reason) will be retained. For the first time, eligible employees will be able to access up to $4000 worth of legal advice if they claim to have been unlawfully dismissed.

For further information on ‘WorkChoices’ an information hotline has been established. The number for the ‘WorkChoices’ hotline is 1800 025 239. A website has also been established at for further information.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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