AWA fairness test turns farcical

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AWA fairness test turns farcical

The Government's new 'Fairness Test' for AWAs is descending into farce, with operators at the WorkChoices hotline being instructed not to say 'I don't know' when asked about details of the test, and senior Ministers avoiding using the word 'WorkChoices'.

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The Government's new 'Fairness Test' for AWAs is descending into farce, with operators at the WorkChoices hotline being instructed not to say 'I don't know' when asked about details of the test, and senior Ministers avoiding using the word 'WorkChoices'.

Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, is meeting with employer organisations today to seek their views on the test, but will not be able to give them details as to how it will operate, as his spokesman said they would not be released until the end of the month.

And the Government is expected to begin spending millions of dollars of taxpayer's money in the next few weeks in an attempt to 'sell' the new IR system — which currently does not exist.

'We'll ring you back'

The previously confidential script for call-takers at the Government's new 'Workplace Infoline', released to the media today, provides instructions for when callers are dissatisfied with the lack of available information, stating:

'At no timer is an Advisor to use the phrase “I don't know” when answering a caller's query. Rather, Advisors should say that "this is the information that is currently available; we can offer you a call back when further information becomes available".'

The call centre instructions also direct call-takers to avoid mentioning the legislation, saying: 'Reference to the legislation should be avoided if possible.'

Contradictory messages

Employers are also getting contradictory messages from Government Ministers and from the hotline.

Both Prime Minister John Howard and Hockey have told employers to 'err on the side of caution' by making sure monetary compensation is paid in return for removing penalty rates and overtime from AWAs until the fairness test details are released.

However, the call centre script states:

'The Fairness Test will consider both monetary and non-monetary compensation in exchange for changes to the protected award conditions.' and

'In some circumstances, factors such as the industry, location, economic circumstances of the business and the employment circumstances or opportunities of the employee will also be considered.'

No idea how they will operate

Howard himself made these points when announcing the test, but until there are guidelines neither employers nor employees have any idea how they will operate.

The Sydney Morning Herald points out today that the term 'WorkChoices' has become a 'damaged brand'.

It says Hockey and other senior ministers no longer use the term, and 'WorkChoices' appears nowhere in the full-page advertisements the Government ran this month to promote the 'fairness test' amendment. Prime Minister John Howard still uses the term but is doing so less frequently.

The new advertisements also direct people seeking further information on the fairness test to the website workplace.gov.au, not to workchoices.gov.au, as previous ads did, and the call centre script says:

'In ALL instances a client should be referred to the workplace website (www.workplace.gov.au), not to the WorkChoices website.'

Millions won't be covered by test

ACTU President, Sharan Burrow, said the fairness test is a farce.

'It will not protect people's penalty rates, shift allowances, overtime pay, public holiday pay, annual leave loading and other award entitlements,' she said. 'The fact is that millions of workers won't be covered by this new fairness test. Workers in new businesses, people on existing AWA individual contracts and those in award-free areas are just some of the people that won't be protected.

'Without the legislative detail, it is also unclear whether non-monetary things like free video hire and pizzas can be offered to workers in video stores or cafes in exchange for losing all of their penalty rates or overtime pay under these changes.

'And it appears that workers in country areas or young people getting their first job are not guaranteed proper financial compensation for losing their penalty rates, overtime pay, public holiday pay, annual leave loading or other award conditions.'

Senator Fielding briefed

Family First senator, Steve Fielding, last night confirmed he had been briefed by Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey on the Work Choices changes, but had yet to decide whether to back the Government.

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