Coalition steps back from workplace bullying moves

A law to help employees achieve a better work-life balance could pass Parliament with the Coalition’s support – but only if new powers to tackle bullying are removed.
Nanjing Night Net

Fairfax Media has learned that the opposition will move amendments to the Gillard government’s Fair Work Amendment Bill that would strike out the new anti-bullying powers for the Fair Work Commission and also the increased ability for unions to meet in lunchrooms.

The action comes despite the Coalition declaring last month that it would support the bullying powers – so long as they also covered union conduct and included a ”filter” to prevent vexatious complaints.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten described the new stance as a backflip by a party ”choosing to play politics rather than to protect vulnerable workers”.

But opposition sources insist the Coalition will still legislate for the bullying powers, as per its policy, if elected on September 14 and had merely proposed simple amendments to allow the government’s own workplace law to pass this month.

The manoeuvring follows Tuesday’s declaration by key independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor that they would not support workplace changes unless they had bipartisan backing. The hung Parliament means the Labor government needs support from either the Coalition or most crossbench MPs to get laws through the House of Representatives.

The Fair Work Amendment Bill, currently being debated in the lower house, would expand the right for employees to request flexible work arrangements, require employers to consult with employees about changes to regular rosters or ordinary work hours, and adjust the way in which parental leave can be taken.

The bill would also require the Fair Work Commission to take into account the principle of penalty rates for unsociable hours when setting award conditions – a move flowing from the ACTU campaign against ”insecure work”.

The proposed bullying measures, meanwhile, would give Fair Work the power to issue an order to prevent workplace bullying from continuing.

Fair Work would be required to start dealing with each case within 14 days, in a move the government argued would give people a new speedy avenue to resolve bullying problems before they escalated in severity.

Business groups have warned the measure would overlap the work of existing state-based health and safety regulators. Last month’s budget earmarked an extra $21 million over four years to help Fair Work deal with the cases.

In a letter to the government on Monday, opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz pointed to Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott’s call for bipartisanship. Senator Abetz flagged Coalition amendments, including the removal of the section dealing with bullying.

”While the Coalition supports measures to stop workplace bullying, the provisions contained within this bill require significant amendment and should be excised until such a time as such changes have occurred,” he wrote.

Senator Abetz also flagged the removal of a section about union right of entry to lunchrooms and the employer paying the costs of union travel to remote work locations.

He stressed the simplicity of the opposition’s proposed changes, which did not involve contentious tinkering with wording but rather the removal of entire sections. With the changes the opposition would support the bill, Senator Abetz said.

But Mr Shorten attacked the Coalition, saying it had previously acknowledged the importance of dealing with workplace bullying.

”They indicated they cared about providing an avenue to victims of bullying, to make sure the issues were resolved quickly and effectively,” he said.

”We now know they were crocodile tears.”

Debate on the bill is due to continue on Wednesday.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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