Frustrated bosses and unions demand changes to ‘simpler’ WorkChoices


Frustrated bosses and unions demand changes to ‘simpler’ WorkChoices

Employers are angry about requirements under the WorkChoices laws that they keep detailed records of the working hours of all their employees, even executives.


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Employers are angry about requirements under the WorkChoices laws that they keep detailed records of the working hours of all their employees, even executives.

And the ACTU is calling on the Government to close the ‘Cowra clause’ which appears to allow employers to sack employees with the intention of rehiring them on lower wages and conditions.

These are just some of the changes the Government is being urged to make to WorkChoices as employers and employees begin to realise how complex and confusing this ‘simplified national IR system’ is.

It is understood that the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Mines and Metals Association have all either written to or met the Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews to urge the Government to reconsider record keeping aspects of the Act.

Details required

Under WorkChoices, employers must record the following details relating to all employees:

  • The employee’s daily starting and finishing times;
  • The total number of hours worked by the employer during each day;
  • The employee’s nominal hours and any variation to those hours.

Equally detailed records are required for:

  • Averaging of hours;
  • Pay;
  • Annual leave;
  • Personal leave;
  • Other leave;
  • Superannuation contributions;
  • Termination of employment.

These records must be kept for seven years from the date of the last entry or the termination of the employee. In addition employers must also keep additional records relating to long service leave to conform to State legislation.

Overly bureaucratic

Gary Brack, head of Employers First, told the ABC’s 7.30 Report last night that the new legislation means that employers have to know ‘what time employers got to work, and if they got to work at X hour, what time did they actually start work?’

‘Why would industry want to keep records in relation to their senior managers? If their senior managers are subject to that kind of bureaucracy then you’d have to question whether they’re in the right job,’ he said. ‘This is not a situation which private industry would embrace or want to tolerate.’

All employees covered

Professor Andrew Stewart, of the School Of Law at Flinders University said the legislation covers ‘every employee from the CEO downwards’.

‘You’ve got a lot of people these days, not just managers but all kinds of professional workers who don’t have set working hours, and yet somehow their employer, under these regulations, is supposed to keep track of exactly when they’re starting work and finishing work each day,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be virtually impossible

‘It’s just a question of how much red tape do you want to tie up businesses with. WorkChoices is already presenting businesses large and small, particularly small, with a huge number of challenges and just understanding so many hundreds of pages of complex rules and regulations.'

Trying shortcuts dangerous

David Edwards of the Australian Retailers Association said many employers had come to an agreement with their employees that they would record inaccurate working hour details to make the system easier.

‘They say, ‘Well, we’ll agree with our employees that we’ll record they’ve worked from 8:30 to 5:15’, but there are serious risks there if there is a breach.

‘An employer could be fined $2,500, $3,000. If there are multiple breaches and many employees have not had records properly kept, then there could be multiples of that in terms of fines.’

Cowra style dismissals - real threat: ACTU

Australian workers will continue to be exposed to Cowra style dismissals (where workers are sacked and moved onto lower wages or replaced with cheaper contract, casual or foreign ‘guest’ workers) unless the Federal Government repeals the controversial ‘Cowra clauses’ from its new industrial relations laws the ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said today.

Referring to the ‘Cowra clause’, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said Clause 792 (4) of WorkChoices specifically waters down previous protections for workers against being terminated and replaced by cheaper labour; and Clause 643 (8) allows large businesses to sack workers for ‘operational reasons’ without being subject to unfair dismissal laws.

‘Previously workers had been protected by laws which prohibited sackings if one of the reasons for the dismissal was that the worker was entitled to certain pay and conditions under an industrial award or agreement,’ he said.

‘This law stopped employers from being able to sack their employees and replace them with workers on lower terms and conditions.


‘But Section 792 (4) of the Government’s new laws specifically waters down these protections and only provides protection to workers where it can be proven that the ‘sole’ or ‘dominant’ reason for a dismissal was that the worker was entitled to certain pay and conditions under an industrial award or agreement.’

Operational reasons

Combet said the capacity to sack for ‘operational reasons’ did not exist in previous industrial relations laws.

‘Until the Government repeals these clauses then we are going to see more cases like the one we have seen at Cowra,’ he said.

Real protection

‘If the Government wants to protect people from being sacked and rehired on lower pay and conditions then it should change its workplace laws and repeal the ‘Cowra Clauses’ that have allowed this to happen.’

So far Prime Minister John Howard and Minister Andrews are resisting all calls for changes to WorkChoices, preferring to put out the ‘bushfires’, such as Cowra, one by one.

Just how long they can continue to hose down the growing frustration and confusion remains to be seen.

Federal Dept looking for guidance from courts

Not encouraging for the Government was the fact the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) bureaucrats told employers at a WorkChoices seminar yesterday that they could not provide definitive answers to employers on some aspects of the laws until they were tested in court.

DEWR adviser Cletus Brown told bosses: ‘Given until such time as the courts start making decisions, we can’t give black-and-white answers all the time.’


WorkChoices to commence 27 March - Regulations released


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