New employment standards ‘workable’, say employers


New employment standards ‘workable’, say employers

The Federal Government’s new 10-point National Employment Standards (NES) are ‘workable’ according to employer organisations, but the ACTU thinks they could have gone further.


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The Federal Government’s new 10-point National Employment Standards (NES) are ‘workable’ according to employer organisations, but the ACTU thinks they could have gone further.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and IR Minister announced the new standards yesterday, which cover: (1) Maximum weekly hours of work; (2) Request for flexible working arrangements; (3) Parental leave and related entitlements; (4) Annual leave; (5) Personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave; (6) Community service leave; (7) Long-service leave; (8) Public holidays; (9) Notice of termination and redundancy pay; (10) Fair Work Information Statement.

Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) said the NES ‘have been improved through the consultation process and appear to be workable’.

However, she said that if problems are identified through the AIRC award modernisation process the Government should further fine tune the standards.

Critical interactions

‘The interaction between the Standards, and awards and workplace agreements remains critical and to some extent uncertain,’ Ridout said. ‘This issue will need to be settled in conjunction the Government’s substantive workplace relations legislation.’

She said industry’s concerns on a number of issues have been picked up including:

  • recognition that employees are often paid a salary that takes into account a requirement to work reasonable hours

  • recognition of usual patterns of work in an industry in determining whether additional hours are reasonable

  • a new requirement that an employee have 12 months service before having a right to request flexible work arrangements

  • inclusion of notice provisions for situations where an employee wishes to extend a period of parental leave of up to 12 months

  • enabling an employer to require the production of a medical certificate if an employee alleges that she needs to be transferred to a ‘safe job’ during pregnancy

  • enabling modern awards to contain provisions permitting the cashing-out of personal/carer’s leave by agreement between an employer and an employee

  • clarification that casuals are not entitled to be paid on a public holiday unless they work

  • enabling modern awards to contain provisions requiring employees to give notice of termination.

Not extreme measures

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) said that the new NES will add some cost and challenge to business management, but they are not extreme measures, and act as a basis for further consultation during the legislative process.

ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson pointed out that the NES are only half of its proposed safety net, and they can’t be assessed in isolation.

‘The other half, a further 10 standards plus minimum wages, are to be regulated in industrial awards made by industrial tribunals,’ Anderson said.

‘Yesterday’s announcement improves earlier government proposals, and indicates a serious endeavour to consider industry submissions. However, they do not add flexibility to existing workplace regulation.’

He said industry does not share concerns expressed by some commentators about the concept of ‘reasonableness’ in these standards.

‘One size does not fit all, and concepts like “reasonableness” are needed if rules are to be set across the economy.’
Further work required on detail

Anderson said areas where employers believe that further work is required on the detail of these proposals are:

  • the way the reasonable hours concept applies to managers and professionals

  • the cost of employers funding 10 days paid jury service

  • the proof requirements for sick leave (especially when sick on annual leave)

  • and minimising the red tape when issuing the proposed information statement to staff or making decisions on work and family requests.  

The ACTU said the NES are an important step towards plugging the gaps in workers’ rights and entitlements that have been left by WorkChoices. 

The new standards will ensure that all Australian workers have a guaranteed set of minimum employment conditions that are non-negotiable. 
'Bare minimum' says ACTU

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the NES were the ‘bare minimum’ that every Australian worker should expect. 

‘However, the ACTU believes the Government could have gone further by putting an onus on employers to give fair consideration to the requests of employees and for workers to be able to appeal unreasonable refusals,’ Lawrence said. 

‘In the future, unions will be looking for improvements to these minimum standards. We will particularly be looking for a new basic entitlement of paid maternity leave for women workers.’ 


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