From the OWS media release:
The proceedings filed in the Federal Magistrates Court in Sydney relate to alleged breaches under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (WRA 1996). The Court may impose a maximum penalty of $33,000 for each breach.
The alleged breaches arose when the Pulp Juice franchise went into administration in March 2006, with staff transferring to POW Juice. The OWS alleges that POW Juice had failed to comply with the terms of the relevant industrial instrument in place at the time. As a result, OWS believes that POW Juice has wilfully underpaid its employees.
OWS alleges that POW Juice willfully underpaid 12 workers, one only aged 14. If found in breach on all 12 cases, POW could be up for $396,000 in fines.
While the OWS handling of this particular matter appears to hold some hope for young workers under the new ‘WorkChoices’ industrial relations laws, it is possible that POW could indeed have gotten their way in slashing hourly pay and abolishing penalty rates- if the young workers had voluntarily signed away their award entitlements.
POW Juice apparently sacked and rehired the young workers on the day before ‘WorkChoices’ came into effect. Clearly, POW intended to use ‘WorkChoices’ to disadvantage young workers. However, POW completely bollocksed their attack, doubtless based upon advice provided by Enterprise Initiatives (a.k.a. EI Legal), which was also responsible for drafting the AWA presented to Amber Oswald. This AWA contains a prohibition against employees involvement in actions which may affect the profitability of the company, effectively giving the company the right to sack workers who blow the whistle on bad labour relations.
Teen workers cannot possibly be expected to be able to understand and negotiate complex employment contracts. However, ‘WorkChoices’ now imposes fines of up to $33,000 against unions for representing workers. ‘WorkChoices’ also prevents union stewards from coming to the worksite to assist workers in negotiations without the union giving the employer 24 hours advance notice. Employers thus have a 24 hour window of opportunity to try to force your kids into signing legal contracts which the kids won’t understand. Parents of under-18s have an opportunity to protect their kids as AWAs are binding legal contracts, which cannot be negotiated by a minor.
The ACTU’s Sharan Burrow alleges that OWS does not have the staff necessary to monitor all employment agreements made in Australia and also that the POW Juice case would not have been pursued, had it not been for intense media scrutiny. (Listen: ABC Radio News MP3, 1Mb)
The POW case is the first legal action taken by OWS against an abusive employer post the implementation of ‘WorkChoices’, but it’s certainly not the first case of abuse. A number of Cowra abbatoir workers were sacked and were told they would have to reapply for their positions at lower pay rates. The abbatoir backed down and rehired the workers before OWS took action, so the POW case is the first against an employer since Howard’s Dickensian IR laws took effect. Due to the date POW sacked and rehired the young workers, POW is being held to conditions of the award in existence prior to the legal effect of ‘WorkChoices,’ so this case may not be a good test of the new IR laws. The Newington College case in which teachers are being forced to re-apply for their positions and work 4 more weeks per year may be a better test.
The High Court is presently deliberating on the states’ challenge case to the IR laws as the Commonwealth enacted them under the corporations power under the Australian Constitution. If the states lose, federalism itself in Australia is under threat. In 1901, Australia selected a federal system as it decentralises authority and creates checks and balances against Commonwealth powers. A federal system may appear to have redundant personnel and politicians, but it is a fairly good hedge against totalitarianism.
The Orwellianly named ‘WorkChoices‘ means more choice in the workplace- for employers, not you… and especially not for your kids.
At the polls in 2007, don’t forget which party rolled back 150 years of workplace protections and which shamelessly supports exploitation of your working teenage children.
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