Labor’s IR laws ‘balance and workable’, say employers

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Labor’s IR laws ‘balance and workable’, say employers

Access to the new individual transitional employment agreements (ITEAs) will be limited to employers who had at least one worker on an AWA on 1 December 2007, under Labor’s new IR legislation introduced into Parliament today.

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Access to the new individual transitional employment agreements (ITEAs) will be limited to employers who had at least one worker on an AWA on 1 December 2007, under Labor’s new IR legislation introduced into Parliament today.

As well, modernised new awards will protect overtime and penalty rates and set a benchmark for collective bargaining, and AWAs will not be offered to federal public servants from today.

The new legislation has been welcomed by the employer group AiG which called it ‘balanced and workable’.

The ITEA restriction will prevent current non-AWA employers from signing new workers up to AWAs in the expectation of having access to the full transitional package contained in the new laws.

There is nothing to stop employers from signing workers to AWAs today but, if they do, any new employees after the laws come into operation will have to be on collective agreements or common law contracts - giving them a clumsy mixture of industrial instruments.

This is no doubt meant as a disincentive to employers to rush employees onto AWAs before the legislation bans them.

As well, the new ‘modernised’ awards will protect penalty rates and overtime, set a benchmark for collective agreement making and allow for flexible work arrangements.

No AWAs for public servants

The new legislation was introduced into parliament today by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard, who also announced that the Australian Public Service would cease offering employees AWAs from today.

Gillard began her speech with a savage political attack on the Coalition, pointing out how clear Labor’s intention to abolish AWAs had been in the pre-election period.

She said that during this time the Coalition had argued that ‘WorkChoices was wonderful’.

‘But this debate had an end point,’ she said. 'It was election day. The Australian people voted. The Australian people decided to endorse Labor’s policy including to abolish AWAs.’

Treating Australians with ‘contempt’

Gillard said that if the Coalition used its numbers in the Senate to unduly delay or reject the legislation, it would be ‘treating the Australian people with contempt’.

Major elements in the legislation revealed in Gillard’s Second Reading speech include:

AWAs

Making AWAs will be abolished from the commencement date of the legislation. The Australian Public Service will cease offering AWAs from today (Wednesday, 13 February).

ITEAs

Individual transitional employment agreements (ITEAs) will only be available to employers who employed an employee on an AWA as at 1 December 2007. These employers may use ITEAs to employ new employees or for existing employees who were employed on an AWA.

ITEAS will have an expiry date of no later than 31 December 2009.

New 'no-disadvantage test'

The existing ‘fairness test’ will not apply to future workplace agreements. Instead, there will be a new ‘no-disadvantage test’ for all individual and collective workplace agreements made after the commencement of the legislation.

Under the test, ITEAs must not disadvantage an employee against an applicable collective agreement or, where there is no such collective agreement, an applicable award and the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard.

Collective agreements must not disadvantage employees in comparison with an applicable award and the Standard.

New commencement dates for agreements

ITEAs for existing employees and new collective agreements will commence operation after the Workplace Authority Director has approved them on the basis that they pass the 'no-disadvantage test'.

ITEAs for new employees, and employer Greenfields or employer and union Greenfield agreements, will commence operation when lodged with the Workplace Authority Director.

All agreements will cease to operate or never operate if they fail the 'no-disadvantage test'.

Termination of agreements

Employers will no longer have the power to unilaterally terminate a collective agreement that has passed its nominal expiry date, and return employees to a limited number of minimum standards.

Under the Bill, a collective agreement will only be able to be terminated where the parties agree, or by the AIRC in circumstances where termination would not be contrary to the public interest.

When an agreement is terminated, employees will be entitled to whatever award or workplace agreement would have applied to them but for the terminated agreement.

Participation in collective bargaining

Employees on an AWA or ITEA that has passed its nominal expiry date can approve new collective agreements and variation to collective agreements.

Under the current laws, such employees can take part in secret ballots for industrial action but then can’t vote on the agreement the action was about.

Workplace Relations Fact Sheet

The Workplace Relations Fact Sheet will no longer need to be provided to employees.

Pre-WorkChoices collective agreements

Certain pre-WorkChoices certified agreements can be extended and varied on application to the AIRC, but only if the parties genuinely agree.

Award modernisation

This process will now commence.

Modern awards will:

  • protect 10 important entitlements like penalty rates and overtime;
  • provide industry-specific detail on the 10 National Employment Standards;
  • ensure a fair safety net for Australian employees, including outworkers;
  • ensure minimum award entitlements are relevant to the Australian economy and modern work practices;
  • not be overly prescriptive; and
  • will allow for flexible work arrangements for employers and employees who rely on awards as well as provide an appropriate benchmark for collective agreement making.

The AIRC will be asked to oversee the award modernisation process.


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Federal IR under Labor
 

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