AWA watchdog 'blind' to new data showing many conditions lost


AWA watchdog 'blind' to new data showing many conditions lost

The Federal Government's AWAs 'watchdog' has attempted to downplay a story in today's Fairfax press showing that the individual agreements are stripping out even more so-called 'protected by law' conditions.


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The Federal Government's AWAs 'watchdog' has attempted to downplay a story in today's Fairfax press showing that the individual agreements are stripping out even more so-called 'protected by law' conditions.

Both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age reported that leaked statistical information from the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA) show that 45% of AWAs have lost all the award provisions that were supposedly protected.

The data also shows that 76% of the AWAs abolished shift loadings, 68% abolished penalty rates, 59% abolished annual leave loading, 70% abolished incentive payments and bonuses, 57% abolished allowances for expenses, skills or specific task disabilities, 52% abolished overtime leave, 53% abolished public holiday pay and 30% abolished rest breaks.

A third of the AWAs registered over a six month period provided no pay rise for the life of the contract — some for up to five years.

Leaked information

The leaked information show staff of the Office of the Employment Advocate believe 27.8% of the agreements examined might have broken the law by undercutting one of the legislated minimum employment entitlements.

However, a sample of 3,972 AWAs lodged between June and September contained wage rates that were more generous than the relevant minimum award pay rate, while 16% had wages equal to the award minimum.

Similar OEA data was published last May, but the resulting public condemnation from unions and the ALP of the effects on workers caused the Federal Government to refuse to release any more figures.

In fact, in February this year, OEA head Peter McIlwain told a Senate Estimates committee that 'we have no statistical analysis on protected award conditions' except for that released last year.

'Not seen the documents'

McIlwain claimed in a statement released today that he had 'not seen the documents referred to by the Sydney Morning Herald and cannot verify their accuracy'. However he did not explain how the existence of the data fitted in with his evidence to the Senate Committee that there was no statistical analysis.

McIlwain said he stood by his advice to the Senate Estimates Committee on 2 November last year, that he decided in June 2006 to discontinue analysis of data on protected award conditions in AWAs.

'Any raw data compiled after that decision was not analysed by the OEA because of serious concerns about flaws in the methodology originally used — principally, that to focus on certain conditions in isolation failed to take account of other benefits which the agreements contained and which were valued by employees,' McIlwain said.

Analysis flawed, says OEA

'Even if the data obtained by the SMH is accurate, the analysis of that data will contain the same flaws as the OEA's discontinued analysis. Without speaking to the employees covered by the AWAs, it is impossible to know the value each places on conditions that provide the flexibility for them to balance their work and family responsibilities.'

A spokesman for the Minister for Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, said the data was a narrow analysis that did not include added provisions and rewards such as flexible hours, access to bonus pools and other benefits.

'This kind of analysis does not compare apples with apples,' the spokesman said.

Don't show particular benefits

Hockey has previously referred to the 'comparing apples with apples' argument, since he became the Minister, and has continually refused to release further data on AWAs, claiming that they don't show the particular benefits that individual workers have negotiated in return for giving up the particular conditions.

'This is the truth', says ACTU

Recently the ACTU attacked new AWAs being imposed at the chocolate retailer Darrel Lea where the workers gave up all award conditions and received nothing in return.

'This [OEA data] is the truth about the IR laws that the Howard Government has tried to hide from the Australian public,' ACTU President, Sharan Burrow, said. 'These secret figures show that the new IR laws are being used to erode the pay and conditions of thousands of workers.'


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