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Forward with Fairness stalls

11 March 2009

THE National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF’s) Policy Council – including the Presidents of all member organisations – met in Canberra today, with all agreeing the Australian Government’s Forward with Fairness draft legislation must be amended to guarantee workplace flexibility, simplicity and fairness.

“The Fair Work Bill oversteps the bounds of what the Government’s reform agenda was originally intended to do,” NFF President David Crombie said today from Canberra. “We are concerned that, at this late stage, the Government appears to be shifting the goal posts, especially in relation to the right of entry provisions.

“We welcome the amendments proposed by Senator Fielding today, seeking to impose a 24-hour notice period before unions can enter a workplace. Senator Fielding’s proposal would go some way to rectifying the imbalance inherent in the draft legislation.

“We have no issue with unions entering Australian farms per se, however, it cannot be a carte blanche entitlement. Firstly, such access is only warranted where union members are present in the workplace and, secondly, a reasonable notice period is essential to limit undue disruptions in the workplace.

“Meanwhile, the NFF is fervently opposed to the removal of the small business exemption on unfair dismissal, which has struck an appropriate balance between the needs of employees in securing gainful employment and the needs of small employers in growing their businesses. In the wake of the prevailing, and worsening, economic crisis now is not the time to be putting up barriers to employment opportunities.

“However, the real test for Australian farmers and the Government is yet to come. The key issue for us is the Federal Transition Bill, which is yet to be introduced. Principally, unincorporated farmers – around 70% of the sector – will be left in limbo if the Government fails in gaining a referral of powers from the remaining states.

“Further, commencement dates and savings provisions relating to the modern award system are yet to be resolved. Should the Government not retain the transitional award system, in the face of failing to secure a full referral of powers, the overwhelming majority of farmers will be stranded... that would be totally unacceptable to us and we have made that clear to the Government.

“Another crunch beckons. Award modernisation will be an unmitigated disaster for our farm sector – and its 315,000 direct employees – should the draft modern Pastoral Industry Award be accepted by the Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

“The NFF has put the case to the AIRC, detailing the massive cost imposts on the farm sector if there are not amendments to the draft Award. So serious are the implications that the NFF, through the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund, has engaged Senior Counsel to make the case for changes. Either way, the AIRC’s determination will be crucial and far-reaching.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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