AWA duress came from business ethics expert, says Ombudsman

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AWA duress came from business ethics expert, says Ombudsman

The Workplace Ombudsman (WO) is investigating allegations that a former lecturer in business ethics has tried to force employees at an Adelaide furniture chain onto AWAs.

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The Workplace Ombudsman (WO) is investigating allegations that a former lecturer in business ethics has tried to force employees at an Adelaide furniture chain onto AWAs.

The Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, said it was claimed that Starrs & Co Pty Ltd, the new owners of Adelaide furniture chain Casual Living, had insisted that 40 current workers sign the AWAs.

He said WO investigators had 'raided' the Casual Living Head Office and Distribution Centre in the Adelaide suburb of Hendon last Friday.

Wilson said Dr Christopher Starrs was the sole shareholder of Starrs & Co, and was 'reportedly a Doctor of Philosophy and former lecturer in business ethics'. 

He said workers contacted the Workplace Ombudsman to lodge complaints about the company's alleged application of duress of workers to sign the AWAs. 

New owners

Wilson said the allegation is that on Tuesday 21 August 2007, employees of Casual Living were presented with an AWA by the prospective new owners, Starrs & Co Pty Ltd.

He said that on Thursday 23 August 2007 Starrs & Co took ownership of the business and sent workers home who had not signed an AWA. Some workers wished to negotiate their AWA but were refused the opportunity. 

Wilson said that under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 an employer must provide an employee with seven days to consider their AWA prior to signing.

'It is alleged in this instance that this seven day 'ready access' period has not been provided by the new owners,' he said. 'It is further alleged that Damilock Pty Ltd, the previous owner of Casual Living, went into administration and the business was subsequently purchased by Starrs and Co Pty Ltd on 23 August 2007.  Under section 400(5) of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 it is prohibited conduct to apply duress to an employee in connection with an AWA.'

Wilson said the Federal Government recently clarified this prohibition by inserting a new subsection 400(6A) into the Act to protect 'transferring employees' being pressured to sign AWA's against their will.

'This protection means "transferring employees" can't be treated as "new employees" by new owners,' he said.

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