THE NSW Government will introduce legislation next week to refer its industrial relations powers to Canberra, a move that will see the nation’s lawyers facing an onslaught of work.
The move, announced by NSW IR Minister and Attorney-General John Hatzistergos, means all states other than WA have committed to referring their powers. All but NSW have now passed legislation to give effect to the referrals.
The legislation is expected to be introduced in the middle of next week, while the Government wants it passed this year. The fate of the legislation now relies on the Upper House, of which the government does not have control.
Blake Dawson employment practice leader Stephen Woodbury told The New Lawyer the move is the logical step in terms of simplifying the industrial relations system, which started with the Howard government’s move to effectively set up a national industrial relations system.
For his professional peers, Woodbury said the move will see work around arrangements for those clients who have to move from the state system to the federal system.
“It’s going to be operational from 1 January 2010. So we will need to review the draft legislation, which is going to be released next week, and review how that might impact on clients and particular industry sectors that might need to make the transition,” he said.
Pressed as to whether lawyers now specializing in the state system will lose work, Woodbury said there will not be a massive loss of work.
“Most lawyers who specialise in the state system would be primarily working for state government departments, agencies, corporate entities like various departments of state government. They will continue to work in the state system so that work will remain. Also, they are retaining the occupational health and safety jurisdiction at the state level, so that work will remain in the state system as well.”
Woodbury said Fair Work Australia is going to set up offices in regional areas, particularly in NSW, including Newcastle and Wollongong, which will provide greater access to those regional areas. He said they will also benefit people using the system, such as lawyers.
Woodbury said: “Now that we have a Labor government in place and new federal legislation and mainly state Labor governments, other than WA, the impediment to state governments now transferring all their IR powers over to the federal system are probably not as significant as when you had different parties and legislation in place at the state and federal system.”
Effectively what NSW has done is that apart form public sector employees will now be covered by the federal industrial relations laws. That is a significant change.
for the private sector, State-owned corporations and non-profit organisations
Hatzistergos told journalists in Sydney that under the arrangements, the Federal Government would provide funding for seven non-judicial State IRC members to perform FWA functions. Three will be full-time, based in Sydney, and four on a part-time basis based in Wollongong and Newcastle. The Newcastle and Wollongong members would remain full-time, but funded 50 per cent by Canberra and 50 per cent by NSW.
The members - commissioners and deputy presidents - would become dual appointees of the NSW and federal tribunals.
The judicial members would remain with the State Industrial Court and IRC. He said that the State Government had also won agreement for the State Industrial Court to be an eligible court under the Fair Work Act.