Unions v O'Farrell

UNIONS and the O’Farrell Government look set for a stoush over changes to public sector workplace policy – potentially impacting on 400,000 workers.

Under the changes, which were put to NSW Parliament on Tuesday night, wages and conditions, including leave entitlements, will be set by the NSW Government rather than the Industrial Relations Commission.

Unions claim the changes will give public sector workers less rights than any other group of workers in Australia.

Premier O’Farrell said wage rises over 2.5 per cent would be matched to productivity improvements but that workers would be no worse off.

"Public servants will get a fair rate of pay. Public servants should have no concerns because there’s been no change to any of their conditions or entitlements under this policy."

Mr O’Farrell defended the move to take away the commission’s independence.

"There’s no point having a government wages policy if it can be ignored," he said. "That’s unaffordable. That would send the state finances into further difficulties."

Describing the proposal as "the most radical change to workplace laws in more than a century", Unions NSW have dubbed the plan WorkChoices NSW – a reference to the Howard Government’s widely condemned Industrial Relations policy which led to it’s demise in 2007.

"If passed, NSW public sector workers would be banned from negotiating their rights at work," the Unions NSW website says.

"The Industrial Relations Commission would be sidelined, and the conditions of public sector workers would potentially be determined at the whim of the government.

Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon welcomed the Government’s offer to discuss the legislation with unions this week.

"But at the moment we are looking at a policy that will unravel more than a century of hard won rights and conditions at work.

"You can’t cut jobs, wages and conditions for police, teachers and other public sector workers without cutting services."

"All Australians should be entitled to negotiate a payrise or have it determined in the Industrial Relations Commission. Why is the Government singling out police, nurses and other public sector workers for WorkChoices-style laws?"

Mr O’Farrell said the upper house, where the Coalition lacks a majority, could still disallow the policy.

He also criticised Opposition Leader John Robertson’s likening of the policy to WorkChoices, arguing that Mr Robertson endorsed wage rises linked to productivity increases when he was at Unions NSW.

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