Rail Agencies and Federal Workplace Relations Act
The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER: I direct my question without notice to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Did the Minister know that in 2002 the former transport Minister had allowed the Rail Infrastructure Corporation and the State Rail Authority to make enterprise agreements with the relevant unions using the Federal Workplace Relations Act 1996, and not the New South Wales Industrial Relations Act? Will the Minister provide an assurance to the House that in future negotiations for rail employee enterprise agreements will be conducted under the New South Wales Industrial Relations Act?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I am in a similar position to that of the Minister for Transport Services some five minutes ago, in that I feel obliged to refer the Leader of the Opposition to some of the background relating to his question. The Leader of the Opposition would be aware, as a former spokesperson on industrial relations and the current spokesperson on public transport, that for a long period rail employees in New South Wales—indeed in most States of the Commonwealth—have been employed under the Federal jurisdiction and under Federal awards. Going back in history, the fundamental relativity in the Australian economy in the forties, fifties and sixties, and even before that in the inter-war period, was the qualifications of metal trades people, or metal tradesmen as they were in those days. That relativity was used as a basic rate that was translated to a number of Federal awards. In a complex organisation such as the railway system where a wide range of categories of employees perform different kinds of work—workshops, operational, permanent away drivers and so on, with a range of different skills—all the relativities within those awards were arranged around the relativity established by the metal tradesmen.
For that reason, by way of a longstanding tradition, New South Wales Railways and its employees have used Federal awards and a very long heritage of Conservative and Labor State Ministers for Transport have operated on the basis that the Federal award system is the choice and heritage of rail in this country.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher: And you are happy for them to continue with that?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I have said to the Leader of the Opposition, who is interjecting, that one of the valuable things about the Australian industrial relations system and having a strong New South Wales industrial relations jurisdiction is that it allows both employers and employees a choice to vote with their feet, so to speak, and choose which jurisdiction suits their purposes better. As I have tried to explain in a simple way, there is a long history as to why rail employers and rail employees have chosen for the most part to organise themselves around the Federal award system. For that reason when actions are commenced by both employers and employees they are generally commenced under the Federal legislative arrangements, including the various enterprise agreements that have come into place since the eighties, in both the Commonwealth and State jurisdictions. Variations on those agreements have been introduced by both Conservative and Labor governments.
I am not sure of the import of the question from the Leader of the Opposition other than one of academic interest. The Minister for Transport Services may correct me if I am wrong but there were quite a few State awards that applied, for example, the old railway canvas workers award. That State award lasted for about 50 or 60 years but recently it has been consolidated into the Federal award. A number of other small State awards covered various categories of rail employees. That was again a matter of historical heritage.
The Hon. Michael Gallacher: You were quite happy for them to stay under the Federal award?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: It is really a choice for those State-owned corporations, those Government trading enterprises, about which jurisdiction suits their purposes of employment and suits their particular employment arrangements. If that is a restatement of a fairly basic government policy then I restate it. It does not take away one iota from the general point I have made that there is a great deal of value in having two competing industrial relations jurisdictions; there is a great deal of efficiency in that. As I have said, there is a great deal of attraction in having the superior Act on which the New South Wales one is based, which has an independent umpire, a formal recognition of collective bargaining and recognition of an award safety net. I have always said that it is a superior industrial relations system. I await the election of a Latham government so it can modify the current Federal arrangements along similar lines.