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Employees enter a new era of rights

By Sharan Burrow - posted Thursday, 9 July 2009

From a campaign that began almost four years ago to the day, Australian workers are set to have greater protection for their jobs, their conditions and their workplace rights.

The Fair Work Act, which begins operation today, has turned the tide on a decade of workers' rights being undermined, which resulted in us working longer hours for little reward and feeling less secure about our jobs.

The new laws will not only protect jobs in the economic downturn, but will provide a framework to improve our lives - at work and outside.


They are the outcome of a historic campaign by Australian unions, which harnessed community support for strengthening the rights of working Australians.

Work Choices will be regarded by future generations as a brief but dark period of industrial history. But in less than four years, it had a profound effect on the lives of working Australians.

They had their take-home pay ripped off, lost overtime and penalty rates, were forced to sign individual contracts to secure a job and chafed at the injustice of employers refusing to bargain collectively. Job security was smashed with most Australians losing their right to unfair dismissal.

Australian unions were determined to reverse these attacks on working people. The Your Rights at Work campaign touched the community's demand for fair workplaces. The Fair Work Act is the result of the Australian people voting for Labor's policy to abolish Work Choices.

The new laws improve the lives of working Australians in six primary ways. Work Choices slashed unfair dismissal rights for more than 4 million Australians and left many young and vulnerable workers with no protections.

Now everyone will be protected from unfair dismissal, although qualifying periods will be longer for workers in small businesses and we will need to continue to monitor exploitation.


Workers' pay and conditions will be guaranteed by a 10-point National Employment Standards safety net that cannot be undermined.

This will protect entitlements such as maximum weekly hours of work, overtime pay, penalty rates, redundancy, annual leave and rest breaks.

New modern awards will also safeguard minimum wages, types of employment, superannuation and procedures for dispute settlement.

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This article was first published on July 1, 2009 in The Sydney Morning Herald

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About the Author

Sharan Burrow is the president of the ACTU

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