Employers wary about National Employment Standards


Employers wary about National Employment Standards

Employer groups have expressed concern about the Federal Government’s proposed new National Employment Standards (NES), fearing they will restrict flexibility and increase red tape for business.


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Employer groups have expressed concern about the Federal Government’s proposed new National Employment Standards (NES), fearing they will restrict flexibility and increase red tape for business.

An NES discussion paper was released yesterday by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard, who said they would provide a ‘simple, fair and flexible’ safety net for all employees.

She is now welcoming comment on the discussion paper from employers, unions and community interests.

Australian Industry Group (AiG) chief executive Heather Ridout said the NES ‘need careful consideration and road-testing’.

She said releasing the draft standards for public comment before introducing legislation into Parliament will be important in identifying any problems with the standards and dealing with them before the operative date of 1 January 2010.

Big challenge

‘There is a big challenge with enshrining minimum employment standards in legislation because they are a “one size fits all” approach,’ Ridout said.

‘It should be understood that unlike awards and other industrial instruments which apply to particular industries or occupations, legislated National Employment Standards apply to all industries and to everyone who works in them, from the manager of the pastry shop to the pastry cook.

‘The Standards, therefore, need to provide for the innte flexibility required to cater for the extremely wide variety of working arrangements within businesses across the Australian economy. The diversity of arrangements continues to change and broaden and they will need to have an eye to the future as well.’

Ridout said working arrangements that suited the IT sector may not suit the manufacturing or construction sectors, and plumbers and senior managers would similarly have very different workplace needs.

Unnecessary costs

‘If the Standards are not sufficiently flexible or appropriate there is the potential for unnecessary costs and regulations to be imposed on business and to create all sorts of administrative difficulties for employees and employers,’ she said.

‘The interaction between workplace agreements and the Standards needs a lot of thought. The Standards should provide sufficient flexibility for hours of work, leave and other entitlements to be tailored to the needs of particular employees and employers through workplace agreements, otherwise, both parties could be disadvantaged.'

‘The interrelationship between awards and the National Employment Standards is also very important and could be problematic. Each of these two key elements of the safety net need to operate in an integrated way and the Standards should not be allowed to have the effect of encouraging unions to pursue award claims for improved entitlements.’

Red tape

Acting CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) Peter Anderson said: ‘There’s a lot of additional red tape here for employers.'

He said the standards could see managers and executives not covered by awards miss out on flexible working arrangements.

As well, costs would rise as a result of increased rights to leave and redundancy.

Employers will be forced to make up the difference between jury pay and an employee’s ordinary wage for those staff on jury duty.

Reasonable business grounds

Employers will also have to grant requests for extra leave and flexible work arrangements so employees can care for their children unless there are ‘reasonable business grounds’ to reject the requests.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said he couldn’t see how the NES would create ‘one additional job’, but they would place a lot of restrictions on business.


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