How’s the Workplace Authority coping post-WorkChoices?

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How’s the Workplace Authority coping post-WorkChoices?

Some feedback on how the restoration of the no-disadvantage test for federal agreements, plus the abolition of AWAs, have affected the processing of agreements by the Workplace Authority was presented to a major industrial relations conference in Sydney last week.

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Some feedback on how the restoration of the no-disadvantage test for federal agreements, plus the abolition of AWAs, have affected the processing of agreements by the Workplace Authority was presented to a major industrial relations conference in Sydney last week.

The conference was the 16th annual Labour Law Conference, held by the Workplace Research Centre. Barbara Bennett, the Workplace Authority director, made the following comments:

  • Around one-sixth of agreements have to be sent back because they are not properly lodged, eg lacking signatures or completion of the required declarations. This applies to both individual and collective agreements.

  • The lodgment rate of individual agreements has dropped by around 50% since the legislative changes were made in March 2008. The lodgment rate for collective agreements has remained about the same, and is expected to increase in the next 12 months because many existing agreements are due to expire in 2009.

  • Around 337,000 agreements were lodged during the time the previous fairness test was in place.

  • Parties are often unclear as to the appropriate reference instrument to use. Bennett pointed out that only federal awards or NAPSAs (not State awards) may be used.

  • Approval of collective agreements takes priority over individual agreements because they cover a larger number of employees.

  • A typical timeframe for approving a collective agreement at present is around 20 working days, but this varies according to the complexity of its provisions. Note: ITEAs commence immediately upon lodgment, however.

  • The Workplace Authority typically receives between 4000 and 6000 phone calls a day.

Interpreting the new provisions

Bennett said that the Workplace Authority is interpreting the revived no-disadvantage test as requiring the agreement to make it very clear to employees in what individual ways they are better or worse off than under the reference instrument. This means it will not advise the parties on what the dollar value of any provision is considered to be. Thus, it will not answer a question such as: ‘What if I was to pay $X per week more?’ Instead, it will inform the parties of why the agreement fails the test (ie in what ways it has reduced employment conditions) and what changes could be made in order for it to pass.

Also, reductions in conditions and entitlements cannot be offset by ‘might have’ items (such as providing access to study leave) because the employee may never actually use that entitlement. It must be an item that benefits the employee on an ongoing tangible basis. For similar reasons, offering extra at risk pay will be rejected, because there is no guarantee the employee will receive it.

The Workplace Authority has released a policy guide on the application of the no-disadvantage test.

Further information

Further information about the conference is available from the Workplace Research Centre webpage.


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