Future of existing awards and agreements


Future of existing awards and agreements

In the last of three articles, WorkplaceInfo spoke with our resident IR expert, Paul Munro, to get an understanding on how existing awards and agreements fit into the new system being designed by the Labor Government.


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In the last of three articles, WorkplaceInfo spoke with our resident IR expert, Paul Munro, to get an understanding on how existing awards and agreements fit into the new system being designed by the Labor Government.

Q    What will happen to the current industrial instruments that are around at the moment, the NAPSAs and pre-award agreements and pre- WorkChoices awards under Labor’s new IR system?

Munro    The awards themselves or their scope is going to be more of an issue, and not just for the unions but also employer organisations.

Some employer associations, like a lot of unions, use the award as an expression of their particular patch.

Q    So if AIRC merged the hotels, motels, caterers -  any who requires say a liquor licence - into the one modernised award, who is the employer representative then?

Munro    Good question; that remains unsettled at the moment. Is it the AHA? There’s also the Motels Association, and a Catering Industry Association. There are more employer associations than unions; in fact, there are twice as many.

And a lot of employer associations are from individual areas; for example, the Pharmacies Guild that represents chemists. But what if chemists are consumed into a greater retail service-type instrument or award?

Ostensibly that is what a chemist is, a retailer, except they dispense product which has restrictions on it. The chemist needs some expertise, but he is the employer.

Everyone else who is employed in the shop is basically a shop assistant. If you go from Woolies to work as a chemist, what’s the difference from an award coverage and worker’s point of view? There’s none, really.

It's not illogical for there to be more than one party to an award, both employer and employee, but because this is federal environment there are other issues, such as state registered employer organisations being involved in awards that affect their members.

If there is, say, a metals award or a manufacturing award, Ai Group is the major employers association, but that award also affects members of NSWBC, Employers Federation, Employers First - so do they have an input? Do they embrace some umbrella employer organisation? Does it go to ACCI instead, or ACCI and Ai Group?

Q    What will these award hearings be like limited in scope or will they go wider? 

Munro    Certainly, there are individual issues involved, like an industry specific issue, so a particular award can be different from another award based on characteristics unique to that particular industry. But who argues the case for that? That to me is going to be the issue. Who argues it? Who has the knowledge, and the expertise, to represent the employers and employees who are covered by the award?

Q    Could the giant awards, like the metal industry award, have specific clauses in them that relate to specific industries - such as OHS matters in the chemical industry?

Munro    It will probably be reflected more in things like allowances. The Metal Industry Award has a lot of these special rates, particular hourly rates that apply for working hot, cold, wet, confined space, tunnel work - things like that.

So the monetary allowances would probably continue to exist too. You might end up with a whole list of allowances, such as for the chemical industry.

Meanwhile, the wage rates are still the same 14 levels as currently exist in the metals award and became quite common throughout a lot of federal awards and state awards - from the 1980s after broadbanding.

The wage rates may in fact be the easier issue. It is dealing with all these other little idiosyncrasies that make those industries different, which justify the difference and also the union’s existence and the particular employer's association.

Q    All those NAPSAs and other instruments will be basically dead when the new awards come into effect in January 2010?

Munro    At the moment they envisage that the whole process will be finished by the end of next year: that timetable might be a little bit difficult to meet I would think.

Q    So you think NAPSAs and these pre-WorkChoices awards will continue on?

Munro    Well, they certainly could. They probably picked the right word to describe the whole thing as ‘transition’. There are going to be some hard issues come up, particularly when it comes out that a particular implementation of this new system means there will be losers.

As well as the existing areas that eventually get covered by the modernised awards, there are other industries that could be covered by awards but traditionally haven’t been, like IT and all these emerging industries and technologies.

In having ‘no award people’ do they want to expand the scope of existing awards in order to maybe encroach on areas where there has traditionally not been an award; for example, a lot of professional areas, and semi-professional and technological areas. 

In some respects, it could end up that people will want to be covered by an award because it offers more flexibility than if you are not covered by an award.

Q    At the moment these awards are just sitting there frozen?

Munro    The conditions haven’t been varied; the wages have been, ie the minimum wages.

The flexibility arrangement in the new awards will be purely only a replacement of the individual agreement making process which was the AWAs role.

Small businesses are going to continue to be covered by awards; so they probably wouldn’t want to go through a process of registering and negotiating a collective agreement.

Q   If we have these giant awards like the metal industry award, what is more likely do you think between the various unions involved: demarcations or amalgamations?

Munro    Maybe amalgamations, but a lot of them are now super unions. Super unions was the first step in amalgamations but then it just stopped. The problem  now is that some of the bigger unions, like the AMWU, are smaller now than they were before the amalgamations because of membership loss. Maybe they need to become ‘super super unions’ just to survive.

Previous articles talking to Paul Munro

Musings on new award system

  • What will Australia's IR system look like under the new Fair Work Australia system?

Award modernisation doesn’t have to be ruthless

  • Who will the modernised awards cover, and how?

  • What about non-award workers?


Musings on new award system

Award modernisation doesn’t have to be ruthless

New flexibility clause for individual workers only

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