a chronology of business, community and Government responses

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Economics, Commerce and Industrial Relations Section

Workplace relations reforms: a chronology of business, community and Government responses

Stephen O'Neill
Indra Kuruppu
Barbara Harris
Economics Section

Last updated 23 May 2007

Note: This chronology is complemented by the Guide to the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 which is maintained by the Law & Bills Digest Group. This guide contains links to parliamentary resources (such as transcripts and amendments) relating to passage of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005.


Employment Advocate
Australian Fair Pay Commission
Awards to be reviewed by Task Group
Australian Industrial Relations Commission
Unfair dismissal
Powers to be referred from the States
Other proposed legislation


The Government amended the Workplace Relations Act (WR Act) by the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005, (see Bills Digest, see also the Parliamentary Library’s internet guide to the WorkChoices Bill, including proposed amendments from non-government parties ) with the Senate accepting 337 government amendments to the 685 page bill on 2 December 2005. This Bill has repealed key provisions of the old WR Act and substituted new provisions. It is expected to become law before the end of 2005. The chronology outlined in the table below dates from the federal election of 9 October 2004. However, the background to the Government’s IR proposals, in 2005, derive from its legislative agenda since 1996.

The major change to the Australian labour law of the Coalition Government was the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Act 1996 (WROLA Act). The Act, inter alia, introduced Australian Workplace Agreements (individual employment agreements) as a bargaining outcome; reduced the content of industrial awards to 20 allowable matters and permitted traditional arbitration in respect of the 20 allowable matters only, or in certain circumstances when enterprise bargaining failed, usually between a union and an employer. Bargaining required agreements to pass a No Disadvantage Test based on a relevant or other designated award. The WROLA Act passed with support of the Australian Democrats and their insistence on 176 amendments.

The period since 1996, however, could be characterised as being of limited success in respect of subsequent legislation. Three key issues have been behind the legislation since WROLA. These have been:

  1. unfair dismissal, and particularly the attempt to exempt small business from the WROLA provisions on termination of employment: Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 1997, and its successors.
  2. a re-write of all of the provisions of the WR Act via the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (More Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 1999 (MOJO Bill) following the 1998 federal election and back toward the original intent of WROLA before Democrat amendments. The MOJO Bill was opposed by non-government senators and ultimately lapsed at the 2001 federal election. The schedules of the WROLA Bill were introduced as separate bills, more or less covering the subject matter of the relevant MOJO schedule over the 39th and 40th Parliaments. Some of these passed the Parliament: Workplace Relations Amendment (Genuine Bargaining) Act 2002; others did not: Workplace Relations Amendment (Award Simplification) Bill 2002, and also the small business exemption bill/s: Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2004. Over the period of the 38th to 40th Parliaments, 14 bills were rejected by the Senate, including three which would pass subsequently and five bills which were rejected twice; 17 bills became Acts, including three which were rejected earlier and 22 bills lapsed [see Workplace Relations Legislation: Bills Passed, Rejected or Lapsed, 38th 40th Parliaments (1996 2004)].
  3. the Australian Industrial Relations Commission s (AIRC) role in setting the safety net of wages and employment conditions has been the third area of contention. The AIRC s role of setting safety net awards is specified under the WR Act (section 88B). The Government and employers believed that minimum wages have been set too high, evident in criticism of AIRC decisions which did not adequately countenance the view that high minimum wages cause unemployment. An attempt to correct this tendency was made via the Workplace Relations Amendment (Protecting the Low Paid) Bill 2003. This Bill failed to pass the Senate.

However, with a Coalition majority in the Senate from 1 July 2005, previous obstacles to workplace relations reform are likely to be overcome or substantially lessened. The Government plans to introduce amending legislation in late 2005 or perhaps in 2006, which should expand federal jurisdictional coverage of employers and employees most probably at the expense of State industrial relations (IR) jurisdictions. It would not be surprising to find that the legislation takes the form of separate bills, due to the difficulties of over-riding state industrial law.

Though there is no bill/s, an outline of the new IR scheme was made by the Prime Minister in a statement to Parliament on 26 May 2005 (cited below). The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon Kevin Andrews, had earlier canvassed the form that the new legislation would take.

Key points of the PM s address are provided below:

Employment Advocate

Australian Workplace Agreements and Certified Agreements will in future be filed with the Office of the Employment Advocate without any reference to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and will be approved on lodgement with the Office of the Employment Advocate . It is likely that a consequence will be less or no independent audit of the contents of agreements. In any case, the current No Disadvantage Test (NDT) which compares provisions of AWAs and CAs against relevant or designated award provisions is to be discarded. A new NDT will be based on 5 minimum employment conditions, a wage rate and four minimum conditions is to be stipulated in legislation. According to PM Howard:

Currently workplace agreements are assessed against a test which is unduly complex and which acts as a hindrance to agreement making. For this reason, the Government will introduce a new Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard. This new Standard will be the test for all agreements. It will make it easier for employers and their employees to compare any agreement against this new safety net of fair pay and conditions.

Australian Fair Pay Commission

A new Australian Fair Pay Commission, will set a new minimum wage and junior, training and disability wages, award classification wages and casual loadings, i.e. wages above and below the minimum wage. However:

No worker can have their relevant award classification rate lowered.

It is possible that despite references by the Prime Minister to using the Constitution’s corporations power (s.51/20) as the basis of a new national labour law system, reliance could also be made on the Constitution’s external affairs power (s.51/29). The ratification of ILO conventions may allow the federal government to takeover the setting of minimum wages, as the constitutional basis of the powers of the AFPC. ILO Convention 131 (Minimum Wage Fixing) requires member states to establish a system of minimum wages which covers all appropriate groups of workers. The competent authority shall determine the groups of workers to be covered in agreement, or after full consultation, with the respective organisations of employers and workers concerned. The Whitlam Government ratified this convention in 1973. (Note that in the event, the external affairs power has not been explicitly used in the WorkChoices legislation except for unlawful termination, and the WorkChoices apprenticeship provisions are not as expansive as the Prime Minister earlier suggested, being confined to school-based apprentices).

Awards to be reviewed by Task Group

A special Task Group will be set up to review existing awards and award classification structures with the aim of rationalising them. The Task Group will attempt to complete its work within 12 months. Matters such as: jury service, notice of termination, long service leave and superannuation will be removed from awards. However, as the proposed NDT does not include provisions such as penalty rates, awards can effectively be by-passed by agreements at one dollar above the Australian Fair Pay Standard. It is not clear whether employers will be able to take industrial action against employees in making AWAs (as is currently the case).

Australian Industrial Relations Commission

The institution of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission is to be maintained while its key functions will be directed to other institutions. Devoid of responsibility for collective agreements, no role in setting minimum wages and employment conditions and many fewer unfair dismissal cases to consider (see below) the AIRC will focus on resolving legitimate interstate industrial disputes (which are likely to be stipulated as illegal), as well as the further simplification of awards, presumably under direction from the Taskforce. The Government may move the resolution of illegitimate industrial disputes to the court system.

Unfair dismissal

The Government will extend the number of employees which give employers exemption from unfair dismissal claims from 20 to 100. For those employers above the 100 employee limit, employees will not be able to take unfair dismissal action until they have been employed for six months. Further detail of the proposals will clarify as to whether applications for a remedy against an unfair dismissal are to commence in a court, or before the AIRC as is currently the case that is, where the employee worked in a business with more than 100 employees. The current prohibitions against unlawful termination (on the grounds of trade union membership, pregnancy, gender and so-on) are to remain although the onus of proof may be altered.

Powers to be referred from the States

At the 3rd June 2005 Council of Australian Government s meeting, the States (other than Victoria) were invited by the PM to refer their powers on workplace relations to the Commonwealth.

In the absence of referrals by the States, the Government will move towards a national system by relying on the Corporations power in the Constitution.

All States refused the Commonwealth offer, and battle lines are being drawn over a hostile take-over State labour law by the Commonwealth.

Other proposed legislation

The PM forecast other legislation, including legislation stalled in the Senate, to:

  • protect the status of independent contractors and support the right of people to make a choice about their working arrangements
  • ensure the rule of law is restored to the building and construction industry
  • restore the exemption for small business from making redundancy payments
  • establish the Australian Safety and Compensation Council to oversee implementation of national occupational health and safety standards and pursue a national approach to workers compensation, and
  • remove barriers to the take up of school based apprenticeships and part-time apprenticeships
  • provide stronger laws in relation to industrial action (including secret ballots)
  • establish a single right of entry regime, and
  • ban pattern bargaining, which is the pursuit of common claims by employers or unions across an industry.

Note that seven Bills dealing with these matters, for example, small business redundancy exemption, permitted entry into workplaces and the prohibition of union bargaining fees (and others) are currently before the Parliament. For more detail on these see: Bills Amending the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (41st Parliament).

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Source Documents

28 September 2004

Liberal/National Coalition releases Industrial (Workplace) Relations Policy. Exempting small business of 100 employees from dismissal is not included, nor replacement of the award-based no disadvantage test . The policy includes independent contractors and labour hire proposals and federal-state harmonisation.

Flexibility and productivity in the workplace- the key to jobs

9 October 2004

Prime Minister John Howard s Government re-elected for a fourth term in Federal election.  

11 October 2004

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) outlines the case for a national IR system (see also policy: Modern Workplace: Modern Future)

PM urged to go hard on reform newspaper article

28 October 2004

Outcome of elections for the Senate clarifies that the Coalition will have 39 senators out of 76.  

31 October 2004

WA Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke foreshadowed possible High Court challenge to a federal IR takeover based on corporations power noting that use of the power for IR was not part of State referrals/agreements in 1991/2001.

Address to WA IR Society

9 November 2004

The International Monetary Fund advocates wind back of the award system s role in prescribing the minimum wage and to reduce overlap between state and federal award systems. Supports boosting labour force participation of mature workers; advocates curbing spending on the disability support pension and boost work incentives.

IMF staff report

9 November 2004

A group of 20 prominent businessmen wrote to the PM proposing that contract principles be extended to employment contracts more generally in order to give labour market participants greater freedom of choice; legislating to give employees freedom to choose their terms and conditions of employment (should the Parliament decide to go down this path) and avoid tribunal or court interpretations that ran counter to such changes; removing the legal privileges enjoyed by unions; assess macro and micro economic consequences of major IR change, with a particular emphasis on the connection between the welfare system and the labour market especially when welfare benefits act as a deterrent to job seeking ; consider the implications of Australia s past ratification of ILO conventions on Parliament s sovereignty over labour market laws.

Letter to PM John Howard, November 9, 2004

16 November 2004

In opening speech to the 41st Parliament the Governor-General states in its fourth term the government will accelerate the reform of workplace relations as a means of raising productivity and Australian living standards. A strategic package of measures will be pursued in this Parliament to promote that objective .

House of Representatives. Debates. 16 November 2004. Governor-General s speech

14 December 2004

PM replies to businessmen rejecting their call for a commission of inquiry into IR but confirms examination to achieve greater harmony among the six overlapping workplace relations systems. This will include considering the use of the Commonwealth s constitutional powers, including the corporations power.

Letter from PM John Howard

25 January 2005

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Workforce Participation, is asked by Minister Andrews to outline the state of play in independent contracting, Cwth v State laws and the role of labour hire in the economy.

Terms of reference

3 February 2005

OECD urges the Howard Government to reduce the number and scope of allowable award matters and cut the level of minimum wages. Australia s minimum wage which according to the OECD sits at 58% of median earnings is the second highest in the developed world. This is arguably too high, as it constrains job opportunities for the low-skilled.

OECD Economic Survey of Australia, February 2005

9 February 2005

Premier Beattie in an address to the AWU s national conference said that State Cabinet had resolved it would go to the High Court in a constitutional challenge if the Howard Government proceeds with plans to take over the State s IR system. He said the State IR system was working well and that in the September quarter, days lost to industrial disputes were half the national average. About 60% of Queensland s workers are covered by the State IR system. Premier Beattie s speech

11 February 2005

The Victorian Trades Hall Council resolved to pursue a strategy to deal with the barrage of IR legislation expected out of Canberra this year and to also call on the State Government to take back the IR power it handed the Commonwealth in 2003 if awards are stripped right back.  

14 February 2005

Treasurer Peter Costello argues that there is now the once in a generation opportunity to enhance individual contracts, to cut down on arbitral matters, to try and get wages linked to productivity improvements and enhance profitability, to get ease of entry, ease of exit, into employment situations, to give flexibility in relation to hours, and to improve opportunities for part-time work.

Channel 7 s Sunrise

15 February 2005

Business Council of Australia advocates slashing allowable award matters from the current 20 allowable matters to six, proposes benchmarking the no disadvantage test against the proposed six allowable matters and simplifying AWA approval processes and extending their maximum terms from three to five years.

Workplace Relations Action Plan for Future Prosperity

18 February 2005

The Master Builders Association wants the Federal Government to soften the Building and Construction Industry legislation s tough anti-pattern bargaining provisions. It argues that the key issue is whether parties genuinely agree to the deals struck. It also wants the legislation s provisions on award simplification, union right of entry, and registered organisation s responsibilities taken out, maintaining the Government s existing bills on the same matters are adequate for the construction sector.

MBA submission

22 February 2005

Cabinet considered Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews broad outline of his IR agenda.  

25 February 2005

Kevin Andrews outlines the broad scheme of the Government s IR reforms in a speech to CEDA. State IR Ministers hold a special meeting in Sydney to discuss the looming federal IR changes.

Where do we want workplace relations to be in five years time?

3 March 2005

CPSU-SPSF will seek to persuade the states to bring 300,000 employees of state-owned corporations back into direct Crown employment and remove them from the reach of likely changes to the WR Act based on the corporations power.  

7 March 2005

The Australian Industry Group proposed that the Government reduce 2200 federal awards to 20 industry-based instruments; introduce a Minimum Wage Commission similar to the UK s model and define state and federal responsibilities for setting minimum conditions. Cabinet met to consider again proposals for change.

Making the Australian Economy Work Better Workplace Relations

9 March 2005

Kevin Andrews re-introduced the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill previously introduced to Parliament in 2003 (not passed by the Senate). The new Bill only contains the former Bill s enforcement provisions it will later be amended to incorporate the full Cole legislative package, including the new Australian Building and Construction Commission.  

11 March 2005

AMWU commences delegates meetings across Australia on Government IR proposals to seek a commitment from employers not to utilise the new legislation to undermine workers wages and conditions (including commitments not to introduce AWAs or restrict union access); and conducting campaigns, with the involvement of other unions and community groups, against the new laws.  

15 March 2005

The ACTU launched the national campaign it had been foreshadowing to try to blunt the Federal Government s IR agenda.

Your Rights at Work

30 March 2005

The Government releases a Discussion paper outlining the provisions it is considering including in Contractors and Labour Hire legislation.

DEWR Discussion Paper

1 April 2005

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley criticises the Coalition for seeking to rely on the old reform agenda .

Mr Beazley s speech to Sustaining Prosperity Conference

11 April 2005

PM John Howard defends the Government s plans to establish a unitary IR system, after critics have labelled him too centralist.

Mr Howard s speech to Menzies Research Centre

11 April 2005

ACTU wrote to the PM to confirm comments reportedly made to the effect that he wouldn t introduce measures that would cut employees real wages or make them worse off.

ACTU letter

11 April 2005

Professor Ron McCallum warned against moving the regulatory underpinnings from the Constitution s labour power to the corporations power. Professor McCallum argued that the dual system of IR regulation was not a significant barrier to productivity growth.

Kingsley Laffer Lecture, see also The Australian Constitution and the Shaping of our Federal and State Labour Laws

12 April 2005

The AIRC asks the Commonwealth to provide detail of its criticism of previous AIRC safety net wage decisions.

Transcript (at PN474)

15 April 2005

The Productivity Commission argued that there would be little pay-off or significant productivity improvements from nationally determined IR, which would be to the detriment of jurisdictional competition.

Review of National Competition Policy Reforms,

21 April 2005

WA s new Liberal leader, Matt Birney, said that he cannot and will not support the Federal Government s proposal to take over our state-based industrial relations systems . SA s opposition IR Minister, Iain Evans, supports a dual system. In Queensland, the National s IR spokesperson, Marc Rowell, has States-rights concerns.

Speech by WA Liberal Matt Birney

28 April 2005

Workplace Relations Ministerial Council meeting, which was scheduled for April 28 is cancelled.  

20 May 2005

The ETU Qld (Electrical Trades Union) commits to spending $1m on a campaign against the federal reforms. In NSW Unions NSW will be spending about $4 million on its campaign.  

23 May 2005

Cabinet resumes consideration of Minister Andrews legislative proposals.  

26 May 2005

Prime Minister makes a ministerial statement in the House of Representatives outlining the shape and content of proposed workplace relations reforms (see introduction to this chronology).

Workplace Relations reform - House of Representatives, 26 May 2005

31 May 2005 DEWR officials advise the Senate Employment Committee that a Task Force of 50 staff including up to 10 from legal firms is preparing the new legislation.
Senate EWRE Committee

1 June 2005

Premier Beattie announced that he would amend the Qld State IR Act to protect conditions including long service leave, super, severance pay, notice of termination, dispute-settling procedures, weekend penalties, jury service and overtime and shift loadings against the federal proposals.

Queensland to shield workers from Howard s IR regime

3 June 2005

Council of Australian Governments meets; PM asks States to refer their IR powers; the States refuse (Victoria had already referred its IR powers under the Kennett Government)

Communiqu from the 3 June 2005 meeting

7 June 2005

AIRC hands down what is likely to be its last Safety Net Wage decision ($17pw, new minimum wage: $484.40) given that under the PM s statement, it is proposed to have the wage setting role of the AIRC replaced by the Australian Fair Pay Commission

AIRC Decision 7 June 2005

12 June 2005

The NSW ALP State conference resolved to resist the Howard Government s IR plans, by adopting a policy prohibiting companies holding contracts with NSW Government agencies from engaging workers under AWAs. The policy requires tenderers and contractors for Government work to offer collective agreements and meet ILO labour standards.

NSW ALP resolution

16 June 2005

AIRC President, Justice Giudice said at an IR Conference that the PM s proposals were of enormous significance politically, because of the debates that have commenced and would no doubt continue for some time at state and federal level; legally, because of the questions of constitutional law involved; economically, because of their potential to affect labour costs, employment and productivity levels; and socially, because of their potential to affect earned incomes and non-wage benefits.

Speech by AIRC President, Justice Geoffrey Giudice, to the ACT IR Society annual conference, Canberra, June 16, 2005

16 June 2005

Reserve Bank Governor Ian MacFarlane supported IR reform noting that it had allowed the economy to run faster without generating inflation.

Australian Institute of Company Directors Q&A Session

19 June 2005

The Treasury released a paper arguing that if labour protection provisions were removed entirely from the Australian labour market, then annual productivity growth would be 0.25% higher.

Comparing Australian and United States productivity

19 June 2005

ACTU launches an $ 8 million radio and television advertising campaign to challenge the federal government s proposed changes to industrial relations laws.

ACTU advertising campaign

21 June 2005

The ACTU s TV advertising campaign against the proposed changes to unfair dismissal laws, which depicted a mother being dismissed by her employer, drew criticism by Minister Andrews.

Response by Kevin Andrews; ACTU view

21 June 2005

17 academics drew up a report of the proposed IR reforms arguing that the reforms will remove employees rights at work, deliver one-way flexibility , do nothing to increase productivity, and disadvantage the most marginalised workers.

17 Academics report card

21 June 2005

Minister Andrews says he is considering changing the working week to 40 hours, instead of 38 hours, as standard in most awards at present.

Minister discusses proposed IR changes

22 June 2005

The Prime Minister says that his Government will not be proposing a 40-hour week.

Doorstop interview with the Prime Minister

24 June 2005

NSW Liberal leader John Brogden confirmed he would cede NSW s IR powers to Canberra if he won office arguing that the country could no longer sustain six separate and different IR systems.

Practical Federalism

26 June 2005

The Liberal Party s Federal Council supported motions calling for state IR systems not to be over-ridden by federal laws.  

30 June 2005

Workplace stoppages occurred across the country with an estimated 100 000 assembling to protest the proposed IR changes in Melbourne. At the Melbourne rally, Kim Beazley committed the ALP to collective agreements and right of entry.

Beazley vows to keep industrial fires burning newspaper article

5 July 2005

Opinion polls show a slump in popularity of the Government attributed to the successful ACTU campaign over the proposed IR reforms. Employers call for stalled legislation (ban on pattern bargaining and small business redundancy protection) to be brought on as soon as Parliament resumes.

ACNielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers

9 July 2005

Government commences $20 million advertising campaign in weekend newspapers to counter that of the ACTU. All agreements will be required by law to meet the new test set out by the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, protecting four weeks annual leave, personal/carers leave, unpaid parental leave, a standard 38 hour week, with minimum wages to be set by the new Fair Pay Commission.

Newspaper advertisement

10 July 2005

Anglican Primate Dr Phillip Aspinall joined other church leaders (Catholic Archbishop George Pell) in expressing concerns about the Howard/Andrews IR proposals, especially a minimum wage falling in real value.

Aspinall joins the fight on IR laws
Pell warns Howard...
Newspaper articles

11 July 2005

PM Howard s address to Sydney Institute acknowledged that a radical overhaul of IR culture was his Government s objective, describing cultural change as the most important change that could be made to the labour market , and cited that a new breed of worker, the enterprise worker had arrived in the Australian labour market.

PM s speech to the Sydney Institute

15 July 2005

Qld Government commences newspaper advertising to counter the Federal Govt campaign  

15 July 2005

Prime Minister announced new taskforce communicating details of the Government s workplace reforms to the Australian community .

IR Task Force

18 July 2005 WA Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft supports proposed IR changes. WA Anglican leader backs workplace laws – Newspaper article

22 July 2005

The ALP and ACTU propose to contest the use of Commonwealth funds to counter the ACTU advertising campaign, on the basis that there is no Budget allocation for it.

Union, Labor threat to challenge IR ads in court Newspaper article

27 July 2005

Australians are overwhelmingly opposed to the Federal Government s proposed exemption from unfair dismissal laws for companies with 100 employees or less, according to the latest Morgan Poll.

Australians overwhelmingly against changes poll

29 July 2005

The High Court refuses to issue an injunction to stop the Government s advertising campaign.

High Court hearing decision

2 August 2005

The Victorian Government says it will protect award conditions for more than 250 000 State public sector workers from the Federal Government IR changes.

States set to unite against IR changes newspaper article

2 August 2005

PM John Howard says current arrangements are going to continue in relation to meal-breaks for workers.

PM radio interview 2 Aug 2005

3 August 2005

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) warned it would not support changes that left its members worse off. Many family-owned farms may be excluded from the package unless they forgo tax benefits and become incorporated.

IR reform may isolate farmers newspaper article

4 August 2005

PM John Howard says talks underway with the NFF to ensure farmers faced no disadvantage as a result of the introduction of these changes .

States to join IR case newspaper article

4 August 2005

A leaked Federal Government s confidential brief to advertising agencies says the Government wants to run a reassuring campaign

IR ads to focus on lifestyle newspaper article

5 August 2005

Workplace Relations Minister Andrews meets state counterparts in Melbourne, to try to convince them to surrender their industrial powers.

State and Territory Ministers reject the Federal Government s invitation.

Minister Andrews states that the reforms will not cut take-home pay and living standards.

Battle for IR clout taken to states newspaper article
States throw out IR reforms —newspaper article
Minister Andrews doorstop interview

5 August 2005

NSW survey by ACCIRT of 5000 people aged 12 25 shows that under the proposed IR changes young people could be easily exploited.

Young People and Work Survey 2005

5 August 2005 The Business Council of Australia releases a research report by Access Economics (Locking in or Losing prosperity? 2005 and beyond) which claims that urgent political action is needed to halt the decline of productivity and economic competitiveness. BCA Report —Locking in or Losing Prosperity
7 August 2005 PM John Howard says his government will not erode the minimum wage; and workers changing jobs will have the choice of taking a contract or staying in an award. Insiders program
8 August 2005 The AIRC gives workers right to request variations to conditions, including taking an extra 12 months unpaid parental leave; returning to work part-time until a child reaches school age; extending carers leave to 10 days and extending simultaneous parental leave to a maximum of 8 weeks.

AIRC Decision

AIRC Statement

8 August 2005 Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen issues a statement, arguing that changes in workplace relations must not be taken lightly, as they will affect families.

Archbishop Jensen s statement

9 August 2005 Minister Andrews suggests a 3-year transitional period for sole traders and farmers to incorporate their operations. Business slams 3 year confusion newspaper article
9 August 2005 Advertising agency Dewey Horton wins the tender for the Federal Government s $20 million IR advertising campaign. Agency head Ted Horton handled the federal election advertising campaign for the Liberal party.  
10 August 2005 The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry explains that the parental leave ruling does not give workers the right to have extra time off after the birth of a child. ACCI Message to employers
11 August 2005 Premier Beattie introduces legislation into Qld Parliament to protect existing employees entitlements prior to federal IR takeover

Workers rights move

(newspaper article)

11 August 2005 Minister Andrews confirmed that those who have better long service leave provisions than 4 weeks in awards will keep these provisions. Labour Force Figures July - interview with Minister
12 August 2005 WA Government makes a submission in support of the ACTU and Federal Labor s High Court challenge against the use of the Howard Government s use of public money to fund the IR advertising campaign. State enters IR court challenge newspaper article
13 August 2005 Victorian Premier Steve Bracks releases a blueprint for economic reform, suggesting a new federal-state compact to keep Australia near the top of the world s economic ladder. A Third Wave of National Reform
15 August 2005 The ACTU presented parliamentarians with a new booklet detailing actual workers' experiences under the Howard Government's industrial relations laws. The workers' stories are typical of the problems facing up to ten million working Australians whose rights are threatened by proposed reforms. Why workplace rights are important to Australian families – ACTU Booklet
15 August 2005 WA National Party’s annual conference expresses concerns with federal IR takeover proposal and dismissal exemption at 100 or less employees. ‘PM rebuffs nationals on IR fears’
(newspaper article)
16 August 2005 A convoy of hundreds of truck owner-drivers travels from Sydney to Canberra to protest against the proposed IR changes.  
17 August 2005 House of Representatives Employment Committee reports on labour hire and contracting.
Making it work
17 August 2005 Government support for a Senate inquiry into the proposed IR bill/s terminates.
Andrews backs down on workplace inquiry
18 August 2005 Prof. David Peetz (Griffith University) claims the IR proposals will result in a “highly complex system of partisan regulation hard to match in the industrialised world Australian Bulletin of Labour, June 2005
19 August 2005 Senior workplace relations lawyers have been seconded by the federal government to assist in drafting the WR Act. The ACTU claims this is giving big business a boost. Employers' advocates help draft IR bill
23 August 2005 Victorian Government announced a new workplace rights advocate to warn employees against signing inferior agreements. Workplace rights advocate
26 August 2005 Unions plan to levy members additional $5.50 pa for 2 years to fund IR advertising campaign. ‘Unions levy millions for IR battle’
(newspaper article)
29 August 2005 Research by the University of Sydney’s Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) challenges PM Howard’s claim that average workers have enjoyed a 14% pay rise since 1998. Real Earning Trends
29 August 2005 PM Howard says the ACIRRT analysis of his claim is “fundamentally flawed”. Real wages – PM’s Press Release
1 September 2005 Tasmanian Government proposes to protect workers on Tasmanian awards. ‘PM sidesteps IR questions’
2 September 2005 AIRC President Justice Geoffrey Giudice mounts a spirited defence of the institution’s record in setting minimum wages; he also outlines a proposed set of criteria for assessing the structure of the Fair Pay Commission. Speech to the IR Society of the Northern Territory
2 September 2005 Professor Ron McCallum (Sydney University Dean of Law) says that unions might opt out of the IR system altogether by seeking common law agreements with employers.  
9 September 2005 The Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations queries key elements of the IR proposals, suggesting they could lead to lower wages and impose unfair burdens on low-paid workers. Briefing Paper No.1 on the Commonwealth Government's proposals
14 September 2005 The International Monetary Fund’s staff report on Australia says the proposed IR legislation would widen employment opportunities and raise productivity by enhancing flexibility in work arrangements. IMF - Australia - 2005 Article IV consultation - staff report...
14 September 2005 The workplace relations debate is one of the main reasons Australians say they will change their voting intentions at a federal election, a new survey has found. Small businesses are keen on reform, but workers fear it would not be good for them. Jury out on reform agenda – newspaper article
15 September 2005 ACTU President Sharan Burrow writes to the Managing Director of the IMF concerning the IMF’s support for the Federal Government’s recently proposed reforms of industrial relations in Australia. Response from the IMF
15 September 2005 Secret focus groups used to trial the Federal Government’s $20 million advertising campaign on workplace reforms have been left confused and concerned about the changes. It doesn't work - $20m work reform ads off target – newspaper article
20 September 2005 PM Howard says that the forthcoming IR laws would remove any award provision (state or federal) that restricted the range of apprenticeships, and that the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) would set competitive apprentice/trainee wages, raising the possibility of ILO conventions such as those dealing with minimum wages being relied on to displace state pay rates. Workplace Relations Reform and Apprenticeships – Press Release
21 September 2005 The ACTU criticises the proposed changes, claiming they remove protections that ensured apprentices got full quality qualifications and wage safety nets. Apprentice wage fears – newspaper article
21 September 2005 The ACTU lodges its last national wage claim with the AIRC, seeking a rise of 4% for lowest paid workers. This would lift the minimum wage to above $500 a week. ACTU makes final wages bid – newspaper article
22 September 2005 The next sitting of the House of Representatives is delayed a week (until 10 October), as drafting of the IR reform bill/s is incomplete.  
24 September 2005 ACTU commences second round of advertisements against the proposed reforms at AFL Grand Final, Melbourne MCG.  
27 September 2005 Economist Mark Wooden argues that the proposed reforms limit choice by not effecting collective preference for collective agreements. Australia’s Industrial Relations Reform Agenda
29 September 2005 High Court refuses ALP/ACTU application for an injunction against Government advertisements

High Court Orders

Reasons for the decision.

29 September 2005 PM John Howard proposes financial assistance of up to $4000 for those unlawfully dismissed after the reforms are passed PM’s statement
5 October 2005 Minister Andrews announces that DEWR’s office of workplace services (OWS) will takeover the Employment Advocate’s compliance/inspectorate functions OWS statement
5 October 2005
Anglican Archbishop Watson criticises the proposed IR reforms Speech
9 October 2005 PM John Howard and Minister Andrews jointly announce details of the Australian Government’s move towards one simpler national workplace relations system. Work Choices: A New Workplace Relations System
9 October 2005 Transcript of Joint Press Conference of the Prime Minister and Minister Andrews: Parliament House, Canberra: Workchoices Press Conference
9 October 2005 The Government’s IR television advertising campaign begins. Prime-time launch-
newspaper article
10 October 2005 The Senate proposes to review the Workchoices Bill by 22 November 2005. Senate Reference
13 October 2005 PM Howard announces Professor Ian Harper to chair the Australian Fair Pay Commission. Press Release - Hon Kevin Andrews MP
13 October 2005 The Federal Government agrees to a Senate inquiry into its new IR legislation. Press Release - Hon Kevin Andrews MP
17 October 2005 Salvation Army says that the Federal Government’s IR reforms are not the best way of reaching full employment. Media Release - Salvation Army
18 October 2005 Minister Andrews rejects Salvation Army criticisms of the Workplace Reforms. Press Release - Hon Kevin Andrews MP
19 October 2005 Social Action Office which represents 20 religious orders joins the ecclesiastical resistance to the Federal Governments IR changes. Briefing Paper – Social Action Office
20 October 2005 ACNielsen figures reveal that the government has spent $15 million in the first fortnight of its advertising campaign. $15m spent on IR advertising - Newspaper article
21 October 2005 Prime Minister estimates the government will spend upto $ 40 million advertising its workplace reforms. Transcript of the Prime Minister, The Hon John Howard MP - Interview With Neil Mitchell, Radio 3AW, Melbourne
25 October 2005 Newspoll survey shows that voters are concerned about the government’s proposed industrial relations changes. Newspoll Survey - Newspaper article
26 October 2005 ACNielsen polls published in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers show that a majority of people think that workplace relations changes would not affect them directly.

ACNielsen Opinion Polls – Sydney Morning Herald

ACNielsen Opinion Polls - Age

26 October 2005 Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke critical of the forthcoming industrial relations reforms. Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture
27 October 2005 The IMF responds to the President of the ACTU (see 15 September 2005). Reponse from the IMF
30 October 2005 The Business Council of Australia begins airing advertisements on television proclaiming the need for a new industrial relations system and economic reforms. BCA press release
31 October 2005 The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry issues a report pushing the case for creating a single national industrial relations system that overrides those of the states. Functioning Federalism... – ACCI Report
2 November 2005 The Workplace Relations Amendment (WorkChoices) Bill 2005
is introduced into the House of Representatives by Minister Andrews. It is 687 pages, with a 565-page Explanatory Memorandum
2 November 2005

The Opposition sought to delay the Minister's second reading speech, with Shadow IR Minister Stephen Smith arguing it was a clear breach of standing orders to proceed when ALP members did not have copies of the bill or the explanatory memorandum (only two were made available on the parliamentary table.)

The Speaker, however, rejected his position, after copies of the legislation were distributed in the Lower House - a ruling to which the Opposition formally dissented.

4 November 2005 Australia's Anglican Archbishops and 17 Anglican Bishops expressed "grave concerns" that there will not be enough time to assess properly the Federal Government's proposed industrial changes. Statement of Anglican Leaders' approach to 'WorkChoices' legislation
8 November 2005 Business Council of Australia president Michael Chaney says the proposed workplace changes are the continuation of a necessary process that began 20 years ago, and not a radical overhaul to be resisted. Renewed reform: why it's an imperative - address
10 November 2005 The federal government guillotined debate on the IR reforms. Leader of the House, Tony Abbott, claimed that more time had been spent debating the changes than on any other bill (more than 24 hours). Labor said that more than 20 members had been denied their wish to speak on the Bill.

The Bill passed 80 votes to 61.

The fast-track Senate inquiry will hold five days of hearings in Canberra, and will report on Tuesday November 22.
PM Howard's speech on the need for the legislation.
The Special Minister for State Eric Abetz introduces the workplace reforms legislation to the Senate.
House of Reps Hansard 10 November 2005
10 November 2005 Trade unions seek to sidestep the new system for setting minimum wage increases by asking state industrial commissions to award a 4% pay rise next year. (Victoria excepted) Unions hit back with wage claim – newspaper article
14 November 2005

15 November 2005

16 November 2005

17 November 2005

18 November 2005

The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Committee’s Inquiry into the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 begins. Among attendees are the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations; State and Territory Ministers for Industrial Relations; Australian Industry Group and the Uniting Church.

Attendees include the Housing Industry Association, National Farmers Federation, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the Finance Sector Union and the Australian Services Union.

Attendees include the ACTU; Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association; ACROD; Australian Nursing Federation.

Attendees include the Australian Workers Union; the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; the Transport Workers Union; the Master Builders Association; Prof David Peetz and Prof Andrew Stewart (specialists on labour law)

Attendees include Australian Mining and Metals Association; University of Melbourne Law School; and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.

Key Submissions

Transcript 14 November 2005

Transcript 15 November 2005

Transcript 16 November 2005

Transcript 17 November 2005

Transcript 18 November 2005

15 November 2005 National Day of Community Protest against the federal government’s proposed industrial relations changes. The ACTU claims that half a million people took to the streets of cities and towns across Australia to protest against the industrial relations reforms. However the ACCI said more than 95% of workers had ignored the call to join the protest.  
20 November 2005 In a savage report and interview on Channel 9’s Sunday program, both PM Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Andrews were confronted with real life situations in which workers were losing wages and conditions through individual agreements.
Transcript - Sunday Program
22 November 2005 Polling shows the Government losing ground to Labor, with the unpopular workplace changes giving Labor a boost. Labor surges to lead as IR fury bites
22 November 2005 The Senate inquiry report recommends that the government's workplace relations legislation should be passed by parliament and made law. However, all non-government senators, in dissenting reports, were opposed to the contentious Work Choices Bill. Provisions of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005
25 November 2005 Australian Catholic Bishops Conference called the IR proposals immoral and urged several changes. Statement and media release
25 November 2005 A meeting of the Queensland Nationals management committee urged that changes be made to the IR Bill., however no resolution was passed. The Nationals had earlier voted with the Beattie Labor Government in a motion in State Parliament calling on Qld senators to reject the reforms. Federal Nationals leader Mark Vaile claims that any changes would be minor and acceptable Newspaper article
28 November 2005 Dr Don Edgar, founding head of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, releases a “family impact statement” commissioned by Unions NSW, which states that the IR proposals will damage relationships within families. Family Impact Statement
28 November 2005 A research paper produced by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library reviews the Commonwealth’s power to establish a single IR system, and suggests that employers should factor in the prospect of legal uncertainty from constitutional challenges to the Work Choices legislation. The Constitution and industrial relations: is a unitary system achievable?
29 November 2005 The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a paper canvassing economic arguments in favour of IR changes to simplify costs of workplace regulation. The Economic Case for Workplace Relations Reform
29 November 2005 The November Sensis Business Index found most smaller business operators believe the new laws will have no real impact on business.

Newspaper article

Sensis Business Index

30 November 2005 The Democrats propose extensive amendments which unwind many of the key provisions of the legislation; only one is passed. The Greens and Family First also propose amendments which are rejected. Legislative documents
30 November 2005 National Senator Barnaby Joyce wins some concessions to the legislation – the right to refuse to work on “iconic” public holidays; guaranteed fortnightly pay (unless agreed otherwise); and changes to the unfair dismissal provisions.  
2 December 2005 The Work Choices Bill with Government amendments passes the Senate 35-33. A time limit on debate on amendments is imposed by the Government. Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005
7 December 2005 The Work Choices Bill passes the House of Representatives. Most provisions are expected to apply from March 2006; setting up the Fair Pay Commission and removing the obligation for small businesses to pay severance will take effect once Royal Assent is given. Amended Workplace Relations Act
8 December 2005 Tasmanian teachers cancel federal award, revert to State award to avoid Work Choices. Tasmanian nurses to do likewise.

Newspaper article

Newspaper article

9 December 2005 PM Howard justifies the absence of union bargaining rights in Work Choices as support for ‘minority rights’. Newspaper article
14 December 2005 Barrister Steve Crawshaw SC suggests that to counter Work Choices’ industrial action provisions, the States enact trade union immunity legislation to prevent state courts being used in common law actions for damages against unions  
15 December 2005 Key parts of the Work Choices Act are given Royal Assent. This will establish the Fair Pay Commission; exempt businesses employing 15 or fewer from redundancy pay; and create a national regime regulating the employment of school-based apprentices and trainers. Most provisions in the Bill’s Schedule 1 are not expected to come into force until March 2006.  
19 December 2005 The Australian reports on a previously unreleased Treasury Minute which concludes that wage rises will be smaller and productivity increases less, under WorkChoices. Treasury Executive Minute
19 December 2005 Minister Andrews releases two discussion papers on award rationalisation and award simplification, which will guide the Award Review Task Force. The papers seek feedback by 31 January 2006. Discussion Papers
20 December 2005 Allegations concerning trading while insolvent raised over a company which went into receivership while Professor Harper (Chair, Fair Pay Commission) acted as a director. Newspaper article
21 December 2005 AIRC agrees to defer safety net award wage hearings until the Fair Pay Commission makes its first decision on minimum wages expected in Spring September 2006. AIRC decision
21 December 2005 The Australian releases opinion poll results showing that anger against Work Choices is subsiding. Opinion poll- newspaper article
21 December 2005

NSW announces measures to protect collective bargaining against Work Choices in NSW; lodges a writ in the High Court challenging the constitutional basis of Work Choices, and proposes to expand the scope of the NSW IR Commission to allow it to conciliate and arbitrate over common law industrial agreements.

Western Australia also launches a challenge.

NSW fires shots in IR war – newspaper article
04 January 2006 Australian Business Limited has branded the federal government’s advertising campaign for Work Choices a failure, as only 13% of employers claim to understand the changes. Press Release - Australian Business Limited
17 January 2006 The first Newspoll of the year shows that John Howard has experienced a resurgence in popularity after a poor performance during the IR debate. Howard rebounds from IR poll mauling – newspaper article
17 January 2006 An ALP Parliamentary IR Taskforce is set to tour Australia to gauge the effects of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices legislation and will report to Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and Caucus on 8 May. It will be headed by Victorian MP Brendan O’Connor, who said it had been established to ‘highlight the adverse consequences’ of the IR legislation. Press Release - B. O'Connor MP
22 January 2006 Tasmania launches a High Court challenge to the IR laws.  
23 January 2006 The Australian Government announces the appointment of 6 people to the Award Review Taskforce Reference Group Press release - Minister Andrews
25 January 2006 ACTU Secretary Greg Combet condemned the award rationalisation process, and criticised the absence of any women on the Taskforce Reference Group.  
30 January 2006 NSW IR Commission allows federally regulated employees to seek reinstatement in the NSW jurisdiction via their union notifying a collective dispute – challenging the Workplace Relations Act Decision
31 January 2006 Queensland lodges a High Court challenge to the new IR laws.  
2 February 2006 The full bench of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission has ruled that it has the power to reinstate a sacked federally-covered worker, under s137(1)(b) of the NSW IR Act.  
7 February 2006 Minister Andrews reschedules the next Workplaces Relations Ministerial Council meeting to May. NSW IR Minister Della Bosca says that is too late for the states and territories to be adequately informed about the implementation phase of the Work Choices Act..  
8 February 2006 In a Directions Hearing, the High Court provisionally set aside 8–12 May to hear State (and other) submissions on the constitutionality of Work Choices.  
9 February 2006 Award Review Taskforce meets for first time. Qld barrister Andrew Herbert replaces the AWU’s David Cragg on the Taskforce, after the ACTU said it would not be party to award ‘slash and burn’. Chair of the Taskforce argues that contradictions of Work Choices have made awards more complicated and may seek an extension for reporting. Submissions on award rationalisation
16 February 2006 Senate Estimates reveal that almost $750,000 has been spent on external law firms in 2005-06 to draft the new IR laws and regulations and the total cost of Work Choices across a number of agencies will be $458.9m over 4 years.
Senate Estimates 16 February 2006
2 March 2006 Treasurer Peter Costello warns the States not to withhold reference of powers (re corporations power). A previous limited term referral was due to expire mid year. House of Representatives Hansard 2 March 2006
2 March 2006 Finance Minister Senator Minchin addresses a meeting of the H.R. Nicholls Society, acknowledging that the recent IR reforms are extremely unpopular, and suggesting that the Government seek a mandate at the next election for further reform, targeting awards and the Industrial Relations Commission. AM program - 8 March 2006
3 March 2006 Victoria files its application to the High Court challenging the constitutionality of the Work Choices Act.  
8 March 2006 NSW passes legislation to protect NSW public sector employees from the Work Choices Act by making the NSW government the employer of ‘corporatised’ NSW employees, and a second bill allowing the NSW IRC to hear disputes over common law contracts. Public Sector Employment Legislation Amendment Bill 2006
16 March 2006 Proclamation of Work Choices Act to take effect on 27 March 2006 Proclamation
19 March 2006 Regulations to the Work Choices Act released Regulations
23 March 2006 Minister Andrews announces a one month extension for Award Review Taskforce to report
Media Release
27 March 2006 The Work Choices Act comes into effect. In addition to the Chair of the AFPC, the Government announced the appointment of 4 part time commissioners to the AFPC: Judith Sloan, Hugh Armstrong, Patrick McClure and Michael O’Hagan.

Workchoices Act - speech

WorkChoices Act provisions

Fair Pay Commissioners

27 March 2006 The Office of Workplace Services (formerly within DEWR) is gazetted to have the status of an executive agency.

The OEA releases information advices on agreement-making requirements, eg prohibited content.

Agreement Information
28 March 2006 Former PM Paul Keating defends his 1993 IR reforms and contrasts these to Work Choices reforms WorkChoices the enemy of productivity-article
28 March 2006 NSW Premier Iemma announces a Legislative Council committee inquiry into Work Choices Members not getting the message – newspaper article
28 March 2006 ACTU Secretary Greg Combet warns unionists that a wide policy agenda re union rights needs to be followed in the event that the High Court challenge is or is not successful Unions push Labor into IR rethink – newspaper article
30 March 2006 WA Govt introduces industrial legislation as a counter to Work Choices. Labour Relations Amendment Bill 2006
31 March 2006 UnionsNSW commissioned Newspoll survey shows that 1 in 5 Coalition voters would change their vote due to new laws, while a higher number of ALP supporters may switch due to ALP infighting Feuding robs Labor of chance to exploit voters' IR anger – newspaper article
31 March 2006 An abattoir in Cowra, NSW, serves notice to sack 29 workers for “operational reasons” under the new laws. It invites the workers to reapply for 20 jobs on lower pay rates. Abattoir job cuts first in law – newspaper article
3 April 2006 The new Office of Workplace Services (OWS) investigates the case. Press release - Minister Andrews
5 April 2006 The abattoir workers’ notice is withdrawn. The Government claims that the new legislation has protected workers. Critics claim that media scrutiny caused the withdrawal of notices. Abattoir workers win their jobs back – newspaper article
7 April 2006 The Prime Minister and the Treasurer jointly respond to a Govt Taskforce on business regulation by announcing that the cost of incorporation will be reduced from $800 to $400 an incentive for businesses to incorporate Rethinking Regulation

Interim Response
9 April 2006 AIRC President, G. Giudice compared the different minimum wage setting standards Work Choices stipulated for the AFPC compared to the those the WR Act previously stipulated for the AIRC re setting a safety net of wages Transcript of the ABC’s ‘The National Interest’
11 April 2006 Minister Andrews announced a team of specialists to investigate breaches of Work Choices and advised that prosecutions for breaches of ‘cease action’ orders would cease Media Statement
12 April 2006 ACTU Secretary Combet commented on the possibility of opening up the corporations power eg in restraining executive salaries, specify directors’ fees and having the AIRC set minimum wages ‘we’ll cap boss’s pay’
18 April 2006 Minister Andrews announces that regulations will be changed, easing the time recording obligations on employers under Work Choices Media Statement
18 April 2006 First ministerial challenges under Work Choices to an AIRC decision to allow ANF protected industrial action without a secret ballot. (Ministerial statement – not on-line)
19 April 2006 Minister Andrews in a radio interview confirmed that employers of fewer than 100 could sack with impunity Radio ABC 891
27 April 2006 AFPC chair Ian Harper advised that minimum wage rates could differ between regions and industries Fair pay boss says all is not equal
newspaper article
28 April 2006 Minister Andrews launches ADRAS (whereby up to $1500 is available to parties who seek to use alternatives to the AIRC in disputes) and UTAS (unlawful termination of employment assistance of up to $4000). Work Choice website news
28 April 2006 Victorian unions’ secretary Brian Boyd proposes that the Vic Govt should withdraw the referral of IR powers to the Cwlth. ‘Unions split with Bracks’ newspaper article
4 May 2006 The High Court commences substantive hearings on the States and union challenge to Work Choices Transcript: 4/5 5/5 8/5 9/5 10/5, 11/5
10 May 2006 CFMEU alleges that the OEA has refused to certify provisions in agreements allowing for unpaid union safety training ‘Union safety training must stay’
(newspaper article)
12 May 2006 Shadow IR minister Stephen Smith argues that prohibited content rules on union OHS training as well as restrictions on union right of entry to workplace inhibit workplace safety Press release & paper
22 May 2006 Minister Andrews provides example of allowable OHS clause in a workplace agreement ‘Beasley caught out on OHS claim’
22 May 2006 CFMEU members in the Hunter Valley (NSW) commence first protected industrial action under a Work Choices ballot

‘Miners on strike’
(newspaper article)

24 May 2006 Shadow IR Minister Stephen Smith provided an analysis of Work Choices AWAs with the Spotlight grocery business, showing that award penalty rates, overtime and paid rest breaks had been bargained away in return for an increase for an increase 2c ph higher than the relevant award rate ‘Work Choices a choice between lower pay or no job’
25 May 2006 Work Choices Regulations approved by House of Representatives Hansard (from p.1)
29 May 2006 Youth group announces plan to set itself up as a ‘trade union’ by using Work Choices bargaining agency provisions ‘Rebel group fights for fast food workers’
29 May 2006 The OEA informed Senate Estimates that of a sample of 4 per cent of all AWAs filed under Work Choices, 16 per cent excluded all protected award conditions and 22 per cent didn’t provide for a pay rise over their term. Committee Hansard p.83
30 May 2006 OEA informed Senate Estimates that union OHS training clauses had been excluded from agreements filed, per regulations on prohibited content.

Div 2.8(5)(1)(c)

31 May 2006 The Age cites a preliminary report on the Cowra Abattoir sackings by OWS which finds that the employer acted lawfully. ACTU calls for repeal of ‘Cowra clauses’ ‘Watchdog backs bosses’

ACTU statement
9 June 2006 The ILO requested that the Government report on the Work Choices Act re its impact on freedom of association and collective bargaining conventions. Report of the Committee of Experts pp.43-46'
11 June 2006 ACTU commences new (3rd) round of TV commercials which reflect on individuals’ work experiences under Work Choices. ACTU backgrounder
11 June 2006 ALP leader Kim Beazley announces the abolition of AWAs following the OEA’s Estimates report, and the restoration of public holidays upon an ALP federal election win. Media statements: AWAs, public holidays
13 June 2006 AIRC considers employee challenge to dismissal for ‘operational reasons’ but concedes that employees have poor chance of mounting facts against the employer. Koya v Port Phillip City Council
15 June 2006 The 2006 edition of the OECD’s Employment Outlook casts doubts on decentralised bargaining and low minimum wages Employment Outlook 2006
20 June 2006 ALP IR Taskforce on Work Choices releases its first report Interim report
20 June 2006 Another AIRC decision on operational reasons rejected the notion the abolition of positions in a restructure could always be attributed to operational reasons Perry v Savills
22 June 2006 Minister Andrews introduces Independent Contractors Bill and WR Act amendment to Parliament Independent Contractors Bill 2006

WR Amendment (Independent Contractors) Bill 2006
26 June 2006 Economic forecaster BIS Shrapnel releases an Economic Bulletin which doubts that Work Choices will alleviate productivity and shortages constraints to growth BIS Shrapnel’s Work Choices alert
(newspaper article)
26 June 2006 ACTU secretary claims that unions once run the country ‘Combet ‘joke’ on power of unions’
(newspaper article)
26 June 2006 Industrial relations commissions of NSW and WA order $20 wage increases for state award workers not covered by Work Choices ‘States hit PM with pay rise’
(newspaper article)
27 June 2006 CFMEU provides data on productivity improvements in black coal sector to iron ore and gold mining sectors showing that productivity improved more under collective bargaining coal sector CFMEU productivity comparison,

‘WorkChoices few reasons to be cheerful’
28 June 2006 Mass protests involving tens of thousands against Work Choices in Australian cities ‘Brant pitches in for IR rescue’
(newspaper article)
28 June 2006 A survey by The Age shows that some major firms will not use Work Choices to push contracts ‘Big firms shun IR revolution’ (newspaper article)
1 August 2006 A MYOB survey reveals that only 9% of small businesses plan to use WorkChoices to make changes; 2 out of 5 small businesses believe it is unfair to many employees. WorkChoices law not for us… - newspaper article
1 August 2006 The OECD’s Economic Survey of Australia 2006 (Ch. 5) commends the WorkChoices package, but says the Federal Government should go further and either abolish industrial awards altogether or pare them back; and introduce a single, low minimum wage.  
4 August 2006 In a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the provisions of the Independent Contractors Bills, ACCI suggested a rethink of plans to protect workers sacked then rehired as independent contractors, while the ACTU urges the bills not be passed unless protections for pay, leave and bargaining rights are included. Submissions
6 August 2006 PM Howard says that the new laws may need “fine-tuning” Meet the Press - TV transcript
7 August 2006 The ACTU launches new advertisements attacking the new laws. The Federal Government attacks the accuracy of the campaign. Unions press on with IR campaign – newspaper article
8 August 2006 PM Howard claims “there is no such thing as a Catholic position on industrial relations”, in response to criticism of the new laws by the Bishop of Parramatta, Kevin Manning. Hansard 8 August 2006

Bishop Manning's speech 31 July 2006

9 August 2006 PM establishes 2nd Govt Taskforce on Workplace Relations, and announces that a new ministerial position has been created – Minister assisting the Minister for Workplace Relations. PM’s statement
10 August 2006 ABS reports that unemployment fell in July to 4.8%, the lowest rate since May 1976. PM Howard notes that since the new laws were introduced, 159,000 new jobs have been created.

ACCI’s Peter Hendy says it is too early to attribute the job growth to the reforms, but they have given
PM's press conference

ACCI Media Statement
14 August 2006 The Cowra abattoir that sacked 29 workers in March, then reinstated them, is forced into liquidation. IR laws test-case abattoir closes its doors.
14 August 2006 PM admits IR is a ‘struggle’ to the parliamentary joint party room. Howard readies for battle
17 August 2006 Qantas flags the move to AWAs over collective agreements in respect of new JetStar recruits for its international routes, and in respect of long haul flight attendants. Qantas stock takes off over AWA news
17 August 2006 Sydney University offers AWAs to staff, with warnings to staff about easier termination if AWAs are taken up. Unis resist AWAs until it hurts
22 August 2006 Victorian Government proposes legislation to protect public sector workers from dismissal under Work Choices. Press release
24 August 2006 ACTU cites Queensland employer group recommending Work Choices to introduce a flat weekend rate, make staff accountable for till shortages, remove the minimum engagement period for juniors and do away with the award system. IR issues enter the Qld fray
24 August 2006 NSW flags industrial legislation to facilitate joint hearings with other state tribunals on award pay rates. (to be introduced)
24 August 2006 Qld Government reports that Qld workers are witnessing a decline in income and employment security in its submission to that state’s inquiry into Work Choices. interim submission
30 August 2006 NSW proposes legislation to shield youth from Work Choices, ie preventing AWAs which pay less than the relevant NSW awards. (legislation not yet available)
31 August 2006 Federal Court finds that Work Choices does not prevent the WA IRC from hearing a union dispute over change of shift Decision re BHP v AMWU
1 September 2006 AIRC's President, Justice Geoffrey Giudice, reported that between March 27 (Work Choices) and the end of August the AIRC had received fewer applications to initiate bargaining periods, challenge dismissals and to stop industrial action than it had for the corresponding period last year. Address to Queensland IR Society's annual conference
4 September 2006 Award Review Taskforce report (July 2006) is released by Minister Andrews but recommends against immediate rationalisation of pay and classification scales. Award Review Taskforce Rationalisation of Wage and Classification Structures, July 2006
7 September 2006 ABS industrial disputes data released for the June quarter shows a fall in working days lost since Work Choices commenced. ABS 6321
7 September 2006 OWS finds that 61 Canberra restaurants breached (pre-reform) award conditions and recovers $135,735 for 306 employees. Crackdown will force restaurants to close
8 September 2006 Media reports of 50 Heinemann employees who refused overtime being docked for 40 ordinary hours worked in a Work Choices protected action dispute.

Test for IR laws as workers docked

8 September 2006 19 Radio Rental technicians who took part in a 4 hour bargaining stoppage were locked out for up to a month Radio Rentals locks out staff
9 September 2006 Opposition leader Kim Beazley announces that workers who vote for a collective bargain should have the vote recognised. Beazley to restore collective bargains

Beazley’s IR plan lashed
11 September 2006 Creditors voted to send the Cowra abattoir into liquidation, after the administrator found that $1.8m had been recently transferred to a related entity and queried breaches of corporations law. Abattoir boss and the $2m mystery
13 September 2006 ACTU releases its collective bargaining report from a delegation visiting o/s countries. Minister Andrews claims that ACTU and ALP bargaining policies conflict. Collective bargaining report.
Combet lets cat out of bag
15 September 2006 PM is reported in an interview that employers should decide the form of agreement. Interview
18 September 2006 The Prime Minister argued that the deregulated environment of Work Choices has prevented a wages breakout in a strong economy with skills shortages. Address to the AFR's Skilling Australia Conference
19 September 2006 Victoria is to use government purchasing power to ensure suppliers meet pre- Work Choices award and agreement provisions. Ethical purchasing policy
20 September 2006 South Australia introduces legislation to shield 61 000 state GBE employees from Work Choices  
22 September 2006 ACTU clarifies its collective bargaining position All have a right to a fair deal
22 September 2006 Minister Andrews announces that record-keeping requirements of Work Choices are to be delayed for a further 6 months and that agreements will not be able to include sick leave penalty provisions Amendments to Workplace Relations Regulations
28 September 2006 Former PM Keating argues that a future ALP should use the full extent of powers, should the High Court so find Keating tells Labor -
2 October 2006 Tasmania Parliament sets up a Work Choices scrutiny committee.  
3 October 2006 OWS intends to prosecute a company for allegedly lodging a workplace agreement approved by others than those it was designed to apply to. IR regulator takes cleaners to court
3 October 2006 Academic Ron McCallum suggested that Work Choices would be swept aside in 6-8 years. Labour law lecture
10 October 2006 Vic Govt releases a survey showing that AWAs are less likely to provide for overtime, penalties and leave loading Working Conditions Snapshot 2006
12 October 2006 PM releases “Skills for the Future” designed to upgrade low and semi skilled workers. Skills for the Future
19 October 2006 OEA statistics show that 129, 678 AWAs, 971 union collective agreements and 1162 employee collective deals have been lodged under Work Choices. Union agreements covered 58% of all persons under agreements. Real choice under Work Choices
25 October 2006 ACTU announces its industrial relations policy, targeting Work Choices provisions. ACTU IR policy
26 October 2006 The Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) announces its first pay decision increasing pay and classification scales by between $27.36 (FMW now of $511.76) and $22.04 (for rates at $700 or higher, 3.8% to 4%). AFPC decision summary; Wage timing shows disparity
30 October 2006 The company Heinemann, the subject of a dispute in which employees who took overtime industrial action were denied ordinary hours pay, agreed to a union workplace agreement. Heinemann capitulates
2 November 2006 The OEA informs Senate Estimates Committee that it is no longer obtaining data on AWA protected award provisions for analysis purposes.
Committee Hansard
3 November 2006 Federal Govt releases its response to the Award Taskforce’s Award Rationalisation Report.
Govt Response
7 November 2006 The Victorian Bracks Govt announces its IR policy which includes a Victorian Workplace Pay and Conditions Standard.
IR policy
14 November 2006 The High Court determined that the Workplace Relations Act (amended by Work Choices) was valid Commonwealth law and a majority (5-2) rejected the States and union case on all points. High Court decision

28 November 2006

Federal Court overturns Employment Advocate s justification to refuse to approve leave to OEA staff to attend nation-wide Work Choices rally on operational reasons .

CPSU success

30 November 2006

Nationwide protests against Work Choices.

Workers rally

4 December 2006

Parliament passes Independent Contractors Act and related amendments to the WR Act which include a new stand down provisions, preserving CA redundancy entitlements beyond the CA s termination, allowing employers to have employees waive the information statement and sign AWAs on-the-spot. (Operative from 12 December)

Media release

6 December 2006

ACTU brings forward 2008 levy ($5.50 per member) to raise $10 million to continue the media campaign against Work Choices.

ACTU levy

8 December 2006

Unions and employers condemn the Government and the AFPC for being unable to publish the full and accurate details of Pay and Classification Scales following Work Choices takeover of State awards and agreements.

Pay scales confusion

23 January 2007

Joe Hockey takes over as WR minister from Kevin Andrews.

Ministerial changes

14 February 2007

Qld academic David Peetz released a report on the first 9 months of Work Choices finding it cut productivity and real wages and unfairly removed workers' employment conditions.

Brave New Work Choices

15 February 2007

The OEA Peter McIlwain reported to a Senate Committee a total of 1,150,348 AWAs (since 1997) had been made - 899,384 pre Work Choices.

Millionth AWA

28 February 2007

ABS releases earnings data for agreements including under the first few months of Work Choices, Minister Hockey refutes evidence that women s earnings have fallen.

National Press Club speech

22 March 2007

The ACTU called for the mining industry to accept that AWAs will be axed at the AMMA National Conference.

Mining body steps up attack

23 March 2007

Minister Hockey flags amendments to make unions accountable for spending funds against Work Choices.

Workplace relations: speech

24 March 2007

Minister Joe Hockey denied advising Tristar to make workers redundant, then re-hire them on individual contracts.

Hockey denies sacking

26 March 2007

59% of voters nationally - including 25% of Coalition voters - oppose the Work Choices changes, according to an AC Nielsen opinion poll.

Workplace law loathed

27 March 2007

On the first anniversary of Work Choices, Victorian Govt releases a report on effects of Work Choices.

Assessing the impact

29 March 2007

Senator Fielding (Family First) introduces private member s Bill aiming to restore some standards removed by Work Choices.

Second reading

30 March 2007

Darrell Lea reported as offering AWAs which scrap penalty rates and freezes wages; OWS investigates.

Darrell Lea deal

30 March 2007

ACTU lodges submission with the Fair Pay Commission seeking an increase in pay scales of $28.

Wage claim

5 April 2007

PM Howard calls on Business to fund a counter union campaign on Work Choices.

PM s campaign call

12 April 2007

PM Howard claimed a link between Work Choices' abolition of unfair dismissal laws and low unemployment.

Dismissal and unemployment

15 April 2007

Minister Hockey claims the anti Work Choices campaign is funded at close to $100m.

Campaign cost

17 April 2007

Media report apparently based on leaked OEA data shows 45% of Work Choices AWAs stripped all protected award conditions.

AWA report

17 April 2007

New Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd outlines plans on dismissal, secret ballots, strike pay and restricting industrial action.

Facing the Future

24 April 2007

The cosmetics business Priceline is found by the AIRC not to have broken Work Choices by sacking then re-employing at lower pay.

Priceline dismissal

25 April 2007

Shadow IR Minister Julia Gillard announces more elements of the ALP s IR policy including the abolition of the AIRC and creating Fair Work Australia body.

Gillard interview

28 April 2007

The ALP releases its IR Policy at the ALP national Conference comprising 10 legislated standards and a further ten in awards abolition of the AIRC replacing it with Fair Work Australia .

Forward with Fairness

30 April 2007

Minister Hockey releases an analysis of the ALP s IR policy claiming it will lead to bargaining fees.

Comparison of ALP policy with Work Choices

4 May 2007

Following a meeting with Shadow IR minister Julia Gillard, the mining association AMMA states it could accept pre-Work Choices AWAs.

Miners IR compromise

4 May 2007

PM Howard announces AWAs will be assessed against a new Fairness test where employees earn less than $75,000 and where the agreement modifies or removes any or all "protected" award conditions (operative from 7 May). He flags amendments on the WR Act s duress and transmission of business provisions and a public information campaign on the changes. OWS is to become the Workplace Ombudsman; the OEA to become the Workplace Authority.

PM speech

interview transcript

4 May 2007

Julia Gillard releases 10 questions as to how the Fairness Test will work in practice.

10 questions

10 May 2007

The Senate referred the non existent Fairness Test Bill to a committee for inquiry, to report by 14 June, and will report on Senator Fielding s Bill.

Senate inquiry

11 May 2007

NSW, Victorian and Queensland Governments commission a study on employees' enforceable rights pre and post-Work Choices (to be released about October 2007).

Workplace Research Centre

14 May 2007

PM Howard urges employer to retain penalty rates etc when making AWAs until the legislated Fairness Test commences.

Pay the Award

16 May 2007

The TV program McLeod s Daughters features a scene where a Work Choices AWA is offered reducing pay resulting in the character quitting his employment.

McLeod s Daughters

19 May 2007

Government launches new TV advertisements promoting the Fairness Test changes, and Work Choices is banned from ads and Government web sites.

Work Choices brand dumped

22 May 2007

Minister Hockey admits that the Government got it wrong in axing the previous safety net; Joint Party Room approves new safety net legislation.

Bungled on IR

23 May 2007

Senate Estimates hearings reveal that $4.1m has been spent in 1 week (21-27 May) on advertising the new safety net.

IR ad cost


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