Workers Rights

Reporter: Rodney Lohse

From next week the Australian workplace will not be the same as the federal government's new industrial relations reforms come into force.Last year thousands of workers took to Australian streets to protest changes to industrial relations laws but those protests fell on deaf ears, so what exactly is the brave new world of industrial relations reform going to be like?

According to Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sharan Burrow it will be scary.

"We know of contracts just as recently as two days ago to maintenance workers who have been at the opera house for over 10 years that would take away up to $20,000 a year in some cases," Ms Burrow claimed.

Under the individual contracts, employees will be able to sign away their guaranteed penalty rates, overtime pay, weekend rates, public holiday rates and redundancy pay.

However, you do not have to sign the contract.

It is possible to even undercut the minimum wage under new contract conditions because employers can average out a worker's pay over 12 months.

In slow times employers can pay below the minimum as long as they make up for it up later in the year.

Workers may cease to be full-time and become contractors. You may no longer be entitled to paid leave to attend union meetings, no payroll deductions for union fees and no guarantees of union representation for dispute resolution.

The government is maintaining its stance that these new laws are necessary for Australia to move forward.

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said they are not the end of the world.

"To suggest bosses will sack workers willy nilly is just fanciful," he said.

"A simpler system will help drive productivity improvements, create more jobs and increase the standard of living for all Australian workers."

You can read what the ACTU's stance on the reforms is here. The government has set up a website with explanations about the changes atwww.workchoices.gov.au.