AWA turmoil as Labor won’t back-date abolition

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AWA turmoil as Labor won’t back-date abolition

The Labor Government’s refusal to back-date its abolition of AWAs is already causing it trouble, with some large employers moving to get their workers on long term agreements and a Government body insisting on offering ‘take it or leave it’ AWAs to new employees.

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The Labor Government’s refusal to back-date its abolition of AWAs is already causing it trouble, with some large employers moving to get their workers on long term agreements and a Government body insisting on offering ‘take it or leave it’ AWAs to new employees.

Deputy PM and IR Minister Julia Gillard this week asked the Workplace Ombudsman to investigate the offering of five-year AWAs to workers at the Bruck Textiles factory at Wangaratta in Victoria.

Excludes award conditions

Media reports say the agreement offered to Bruck workers excludes all award provisions, and promises a 3% wage rise annually, beginning in July next year.

Under the AWA employees would be denied access to the Industrial Relations Commission, or similar, if a dispute arose, instead, instead being required to go before a private mediator with the cost potentially borne by the worker.

The company can also stand down employees on no pay with just one week’s notice when it believes no work is available.

No pay rise since 2004

The Australian newspaper quoted a Bruck worker as saying employees who refused to sign AWAs had not received a pay rise since 2004.

The company claims it is not pressuring workers into signing AWAs but rather had been approached by several employees who wanted to extend their agreements.

BHP has also been accused of trying to force workers onto extended AWAs by offering a $10,000 ‘bonus’, and the Commonwealth Bank and Telstra have also moved to increase their use of AWAs before Labor abolishes them in February.

ABCC offers ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ AWAs

Labor is also having trouble with the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) which was set up by the Howard Government to control union in the construction industry.

It has adopted a very hard-line approach, prosecuting the CFMEU at every opportunity, but with limited success. The unions want the ABCC abolished but Labor had promised to keep it until 2010, when it will be taken into the Fair Work Australia system.

Gillard has told the federal public sector to stop offering take-it-or-leave-it AWAs, and said last week that ‘AWAs should now only be used in circumstances where there is no satisfactory alternative and employees should be given choice’.

When told the ABCC was offering a position conditional on signing an AWA, Gillard said she would speak to them about it.

Want people to have choice

‘But the policy, the directive is very clear,’ she said. ‘We want employees to have choice. We don’t want people who are getting jobs with the Federal Government or any of the statutory agencies to be confronted with a take-it-or-leave-it AWA’.

Gillard said she wanted to ‘make sure AWAs are strictly confined to circumstances where there is no satisfactory alternative and that they’re not offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis’.

The ABCC says it is complying with the directive because it currently has no collective agreement under which new starters can be employed.


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