Thursday, August 02, 2012

Gillard gives her own industrial relations regulator the stamp of approval

THE Gillard government's review of the Fair Work Act has found the laws have not had a negative impact on productivity, delivering fairness for workers and flexibility for employers.

Despite sustained criticism of the legislation by business, The Australian understands the review, to be released by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten today, finds the act is working as intended, and has not decreased competitiveness or led to excessive cost increases.

While not proposing sweeping changes, it is understood the three-member panel that conducted the review provides the government with about 50 options for change, many of which are technical in nature.

It is believed the review supports giving employers assistance when unions stall negotiations over greenfield agreements.

Greenfield agreements outline employment conditions on new projects before workers are employed. Under the act, it is possible for employers to make greenfield agreements only with unions.

Business groups and industrial lawyers claim unions often seek to delay making deals knowing that, the longer talks go on, project costs will increase and then companies will be more likely to make concessions.

The Australian has previously revealed that the government supports changes to ensure resources projects are not subject to excessive delays.

However, it is understood the review panel does not support a return to Work Choices-era employer-only greenfield deals, where companies could set pay and conditions on new projects without reference to unions.

It is also believed the review does not support new limits on unfair dismissal claims or a return to individual statutory contracts as operated under Work Choices.

It is understood the review explicitly notes the development of the act, which was introduced by Labor to roll back many of the Work Choices industrial relations reforms introduced by the Howard government, was subject to extensive consultation before its introduction,

The panel that conducted the review concluded productivity growth had been "disappointing" under the workplace systems of the past decade, including the Fair Work Act and Work Choices. But it said it was "not persuaded" the legislative industrial relations framework "accounted for this productivity slowdown". "The Fair Work Act itself is not three years old and judicial interpretation of some of its provisions is still evolving as issues are brought before the courts," the report says.

"The panel was disinclined to recommend legislative changes where there was a reasonable prospect that judicial interpretation of existing provisions would resolve the problem."

Mr Shorten has promised to consult on the review's findings before announcing any proposed changes in about a month.

But it is understood the government's focus during forthcoming consultations will be on the review detail and not about accepting business or union attempts to re-prosecute elements of their submissions not adopted by the panel. It is understood the government will seek to use today's release of the report to try to increase pressure on Tony Abbott to detail the Coalition's workplace policy.

While resource employers will welcome the proposed changes to the greenfields provisions, business groups are expected to express strong disappointment with the overall review findings, given their long-running campaign for substantial changes.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said yesterday it was "vital that the government recognise the flaws" in the legislation and introduce amendments to achieve a more productive, flexible and fair workplace relations system.

"When the Fair Work Act was implemented, union rights were expanded in over 120 areas," Mr Willox said. "It is clear from businesses across a range of sectors that the introduction of the act has led to increased union activity generally, increased disputation and increased union militancy in several key sectors of the economy at a time of rising costs and global competition."

ACTU president Ged Kearney said unions would push back against any employer campaign to use the review's release to further their agenda for changes. "Any reasonable objective review would conclude the Fair Work Act was achieving its objective of delivering fairness in the workplace and economic growth. It is lazy opportunism to blame the three-year-old (act) for a decade-plus slowdown in productivity growth."

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said while employers "expect some crumbs in terms of minor IR reforms, the scene has been set by the PM, Minister Shorten and the array of usual suspects not to expect much change".

"The government needs to stop the paternalistic approach to IR and allow employees and employers to work with creativity and innovation," he said. "If this occurs, come four years Australia can qualify for the next productivity olympics."

According to government answers to opposition questions on notice, the review is expected to cost taxpayers about $900,000. The three members of the panel worked between 229 and 236 hours each, at an hourly rate of $550. The Coalition estimates the trio were paid $382,000.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said a fundamental test for Mr Shorten would be "whether or not he addresses concerns surrounding productivity, militancy and workplace flexibility".

"If he simply decides to do nothing, it will be further proof of his ostrich-like approach to the growing body of evidence suggesting reform."


Qld. Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announces banning of 'hospital bypassing' from January 1

QUEENSLAND hospitals will soon be banned from diverting ambulances to other facilities when their emergency departments become full.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg today said “hospital bypass” would be outlawed from January 1 as the Newman Government implements the recommendations of a major report designed to address ambulance ramping.

The report was prepared by David Rosengren, a Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital emergency physician who also chairs the Emergency Medicine Research Foundation and is emergency medicine director at Greenslopes Private Hospital.

“According to Rosengren, no Queensland hospital should have the authority to divert ambulances elsewhere,” Mr Springborg said.

“Senior level clinician initiative nurses will be introduced to all major emergency departments to improve the flows through the front doors of our hospitals.”

Mr Springborg said addressing ramping required a whole-of-hospital approach, particularly the timely discharge of patients to prevent bed blocking.

“The report makes it clear that simply going on bypass, which is effectively diverting a patient to another facility, is an unacceptable mechanism for managing demand on emergency departments,” he said.

He promised to implement Mr Rosengren’s 15 recommendations in full.

Queensland Health director-general Tony O’Connell will also establish a special working group to drive the changes.

The recommendations:

1. Each Hospital and Health Service provide a 24-hour single point of non-ED Executive Director level (or higher) contact for the QAS on ED access issues.

2. Queensland Health includes a key performance indicator relating to Patient off-Stretcher Time (POST) in future Service Level Agreements for Hospital and Health Services.

3. Queensland Health reviews the current hospital capacity escalation framework and mandate implementation by 1 January 2013.

4. Queensland Health review the role of the Emergency Capacity Hospital Overview (ECHO) and internal ED capacity (SAPhTE) scores.

5. Patient flow and bed management strategies are implemented into all Queensland public hospitals and each Hospital and Health Service must demonstrate active use of same.

6. As at 1 January 2012 no hospital will have the authority to divert ambulances (activate ambulance bypass) to another hospital.

7. QAS is responsible for ambulance load share into emergency departments.

8. Triage must occur on arrival.

9. The introduction of senior level Clinical Initiative Nurses to the waiting room of all major EDs.

10. Patients are not to return to the back of an ambulance post triage.

11. Queensland Health and QAS introduce formal education modules into respective mandatory training ensure QAS paramedics and Queensland Health triage staff have a clear understanding of each other’s role and scope of practice.

12. That a Patient off Stretcher Time (POST) Policy directed at ensuring the time from arrival to clinical handover from QAS to the hospital is less than 30 minutes, be reviewed and implemented as a mandatory directive from Queensland Health by 1 January 2013.

13. QAS review the role of the QAS Hospital Liaison Officer (HLO), to optimise its contribution in the environment created by implementation of these recommendations.

14. Development of an Inter-hospital transfer Directive whereby patients not requiring specialist emergency medical care do not transit through the ED.

15. Establishment of a high-level Emergency Services Management Committee (ESMC) to provide policy advice to the Minister on issues affecting consumer access to (and delivery of) public hospital emergency and monitor implementation of the MEDAI recommendations.


Unwanted mosque in NSW

A MUSLIM prayer room in use in a house in South Hurstville for more than 20 years is facing closure because neighbours have complained about parking and noise. But Anthony Mundine, the former footballer and world boxing champion who used the prayer room, believes the problem is prejudice, not parking.

Mr Mundine's mother, Lyn, lives next door to the home he considers his local mosque, which belongs to the El Maneh family. He stays at his mother's when he is in training for fights and lives at nearby Blakehurst. He said the street was big and wide, and every house had off-street parking, so was "baffled" by the objections. "I think it is just an excuse to shut the mosque down".

Mr Mundine said Muslims have "the worst rap on a Western scale than anybody. All that is shown is negativity; all that is shown is terrorism. I am sure if there was a church there, there would not be any petitions".

Alex Psarras, one of those who complained to Kogarah Council about the prayer room, has lived next door for 35 years. He said the El Maneh family were "very, very good neighbours" and it was nothing personal, but he was concerned the number of people attending was growing.

Kogarah Council's director of planning and environmental services, Rod Logan, said the council cautioned against further use of the site for public worship after temporary consent lapsed in March. A new development application has been lodged but will not be determined until after council elections in September, Mr Logan said.

The earlier consent restricted the number of attendees to 40. Prayer times were confined to 90 minutes at Friday lunchtimes and an hour each night during Ramadan.

Mr Logan said the council had received petitions with 16 households for and 23 against the application, but this was not reliable because many signatures appeared both for and against.

Amin Nasser of Hurstville, representing the El Maneh family, said he had never counted more than 46 people attending at a time, and all were local residents or employees. He said the family was content to accept the earlier restrictions permanently. He said they didn't want any trouble.

Mr Mundine said the closure of the prayer room made it more difficult for him to practise his faith. But it was worse for the elderly who "relied on this mosque and can't get to other mosques". There were typically 50 to 80 people at the prayer sessions he had attended, Mr Mundine said.


Unwanted mosque in Canberra

A controversial anti-mosque flyer distributed in Gungahlin has probably not breached the ACT’s Discrimination Act, but has prompted the Human Rights Commissioner to again call for stronger anti-discrimination laws in the territory in a report on the matter released today.

The flyer, distributed in Gungahlin by a group calling themselves the Concerned Citizens of Canberra, urged residents to oppose the construction of a mosque on The Valley Avenue because of its "social impact" on the "Australian neighbours" in the northern Canberra region.

The flyer also raised concerns about traffic and noise, "public interest" and the proposed size of the development.

ACT Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs, who was asked to investigate concerns the flyer constituted racist material, released her advice on the matter today.

Dr Watchirs said that while the flyer was "undoubtedly offensive", the ACT’s current discrimination laws had too high a test for racial vilification for the flyer to be considered in breach of the Discrimination Act.

"It is unlikely that the flyer regarding a proposed  development of a Mosque circulated in Gungahlin would breach s.66 of the ACT Discrimination Act because it is entirely concerned with religious issues, rather than race. It is also unclear if the flyer would satisfy the high test for vilification in the Discrimination Act, which has an ‘incitement’ requirement," the advice said.

However, Dr Watchirs said complainants would likely have more success under Federal discrimination laws.

"An ACT complainant of the Muslim faith who received this flyer may have more success in the Federal jurisdiction, with the advantage of a lower threshold to establish racial hatred, as well as relying on the Explanatory Statement which explicitly envisages that Muslim people represent a racial group."

In the advice, Dr Watchirs pointed towards a review of the ACT's current discrimination laws, and recommended the Act be reformed to include better provisions for discrimination against religious groups.

"I would recommend that the ground of religious conviction be added to the current vilification protection in the Discrimination Act as a matter of priority, given the increasing incidents of this kind being reported in the media."


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