EMPLOYERS have been given a stiff warning against misusing new industrial relations laws, after sackings that even the Government admits could be illegal.
The dismissal of 29 workers at a NSW abattoir who were told they could compete in a few weeks for 20 jobs at lower pay has been widley condemed.
The IR minister Mr Andrews, told employers "Employers have rights but they also have obligations", which they should look at carefully
He said the Cowra abattoir could be breaking the law if people were re-employed on worse conditions. If the main reason for sacking workers was to seek to re-employ them on inferior conditions, "that's not allowed under the legislation". Employers should educate themselves about the new law.
Prime Minister John Howard, pointing out that with more than 100 workers the abattoir was not exempt from unfair dismissal provisions, told Ten's Meet the Press large companies should not think they could just give "operational reasons" to justify dismissals without a genuine "operational situation".
ACTU secretary Greg Combet said the abattoir proposed that employies would get $185.80 less a week (pig slaughterer) and $200 a week less (beef slaughterman).
ACTU President Ms Burrow told a picnic gathering of a few hundred workers and community leaders in Yarraville that the sackings in Cowra highlighted the "bastardry that these laws actually allow". Mr Andrews "doesn't know his own laws", she said. "If he is saying his laws are being misinterpreted, we would say, 'Show us where'."
She said while the new laws allowed companies with fewer than 100 workers to dump workers without adequate reason, the Cowra sackings highlighted how employers with more than 100 workers would use the convenient excuse of "operational reasons".
"We want to know what the minister believes is in the new laws to protect people from unfair dismissal when 'operational reasons' appears to be as powerful a tool to sack.
Meanwhile, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma says he is concerned about the sacking on 29 meat workers in the central-west of the state.
Mr Iemma says the incident is further proof that the Federal Government's new industrial relations legislation goes to far.
"This is now the evidence of what we said all along - that these laws are unfair to workers and their families they risk not just their conditions of their jobs, and we're now seeing it unfold every day," he said.
"Every day we are seeing workers disadvantaged, conditions taken away or jobs lost as a result of these laws."
Charlie Donzow from the Meat Industry Employees Union says the whole town will feel the impact.
"By reducing workers' income, it means that it reduces the overall expenditure within the immediate town and area so that does have a flow-on effect to the overall town economy," he said.
"The new WorkChoices legislation, unfortunately, allows companies to take this position because they can simply claim it's because of operational reasons."
The Cowra abattoir would not comment.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has seized on comments from a partner of one of the law firms used to write the new industrial relations laws, saying they are proof that workers will be worse off.
Freehills partner Anthony Longland reportedly told a conference that provisions such as penalty rates for shift work, overtime, weekend and holiday work could be abolished if they were over-ridden by a WorkChoices agreement.
ACTU secretary Greg Combet says the comments back claims by unions.
"That under the new workplace laws that the Federal Government has brought in, it is quite possible and quite straightforward for an employer to get rid of people's penalty rates, to cut their take-home pay, simply by entering into a new agreement which abolishes those things," he said.
ACTU president Sharon Burrow also warned yesterday that a pattern could emerge of employers getting rid of workers who had been injured by abusing the new legislation.