Modern Awards Review: govt puts penalty rates on agenda

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Modern Awards Review: govt puts penalty rates on agenda

The just-released submission by the Federal Government to the Fair Work Commission’s Modern Awards Review currently underway asks for major changes to the award system currently operating — including a severe curtailment of the penalty rates regime that applies across many awards.

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The just-released submission by the Federal Government to the Fair Work Commission’s Modern Awards Review currently underway asks for major changes to the award system currently operating — including a severe curtailment of the penalty rates regime that applies across many awards.
 
The government has argued that the softening economic environment and labour market make change critical because the impact of employment costs will be considerable on companies deciding to hire workers over the next four years.
 
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has already responded to the government’s submission, claiming it is a push for a re-examination of penalty rates with a view to slashing working conditions. Labor says that WorkChoices has just been sedated and is now being revived.
 
The Modern Awards Review, which officially gets underway today, has a dedicated location on the Fair Work Commission’s site. All submissions can be viewed.
 
Extracts from the government’s submission
 
Here are some extracts from the Government’s submission to the FWC:
‘While the current modern awards were consistent with the modern awards objective in 2008–09 when they were drafted, the Commission must use this Review to ensure modern awards remain consistent with the modern awards objective and consider whether the practical effect of modern awards over the previous four years has adequately reflected the objective …
 
The Government submits that 4 yearly reviews are to be a comprehensive examination of the minimum terms and conditions of employment in modern awards, and their relevance to modern workplaces. The 4 yearly reviews are also an opportunity to re-align or dis-amalgamate awards, where necessary …
 
The Government submits that modern awards should support job creation ... The softening economic environment and labour market should be carefully considered by the Commission during the Review. In particular, the Commission should consider the impact of employment costs on employers’ decision to hire workers over the next four years …
 
The Government also submits that the Commission should take into account the need to ensure a simple, easy to understand modern awards system when setting and varying modern awards. Due to the limited time frames of the award modernisation process, current modern awards contain a high degree of detail and can be difficult to interpret … 
 
[There is a] significant obligation on the Commission to ensure modern awards do not contain clauses beyond what was envisaged by the legislature. It is also a means by which modern awards should be kept relatively succinct … 
 
Ensuring modern awards are concise and provide only minimum terms and conditions of employment will encourage parties to bargain for enterprise agreements that suit the particular needs of their workplace …
 
Given that the model transitional arrangements included in most modern awards (designed to allow employers and employees time to adjust to new minimum wages, loadings, penalty rates and shift allowances in modern awards) operate up until 30 June 2014, it would be appropriate to schedule any review of penalty rates after this date …
 
The Government submits that a concerted effort to standardise and simplify the language of modern awards would improve community understanding of employment conditions …’
The government will make further submissions throughout the Review as necessary incorporating relevant data and data analysis where possible.
 
What other groups are saying
 
‘The Australian Industry Group strongly endorses the Federal Government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission’s Four Yearly Review of Modern Awards that modern awards need to support job creation and that the softening economic environment and labour market need to be carefully considered during the Review,’ Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said today.
 
‘While awards are less important than they once were, they still provide a very important safety net for employees and employers. Awards should be flexible and not impose undue barriers on employers and employees.’
 
United Voice, one of Australia’s biggest unions, says the Abbott Government’s attack on penalty rates ‘is a cowardly attack on low paid workers and their families. The government is directly challenging the system on which the Australian community relies to enjoy a leisurely weekend, safer suburbs, quality hospitals and emergency care any time of day or night. The Abbott Government has abandoned workers and joined forces with employers in its submission to the Fair Work Commission’s review of modern awards.’
 
Louise Tarrant, National Secretary of United Voice, says ‘This submission reveals Tony Abbott’s true colours. It is a mean-spirited and sneaky attempt to get around his election promise not to change the Fair Work Act.’
 
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