Study shows not just 'rogue bosses' misusing WorkChoices

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Study shows not just 'rogue bosses' misusing WorkChoices

A detailed study of 339 WorkChoices agreements in the hospitality and retail industries has shown such significant and widespread loss of wages and conditions that 'rogue employers' could no longer be blamed, a seminar was told yesterday.

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A detailed study of 339 WorkChoices agreements in the hospitality and retail industries has shown such significant and widespread loss of wages and conditions that 'rogue employers' could no longer be blamed, a seminar was told yesterday.

The study, Lowering Standards: From Award to WorkChoices in Retail and Hospitality Agreements, was conducted by Justine Evesson from Sydney University's Workplace Research Centre and found that wages in the retail sector had dropped by up to 18%, and 12% in hospitality.

In fact 61% to 81% (depending on different patterns of hours) of agreements in retail, dropped earnings for workers, and 75% to 85% of hospitality agreements also reduced wages.

The study found that permanent part-time workers averaged the biggest losses in retail - up to 21.3% in fast food and 31.1% in liquor.

Part-time workers on split shifts were the worst treated in hospitality, losing 12.9% in non-union agreements and 2.6% in union agreements.

'Extraordinary' result

Dr John Buchanan, who heads the Centre, told the seminar in Sydney that it was 'extraordinary that even when we have such a demand for labour we can have [such a result].'

Justine Evesson said the 339 agreements studied were lodged in the first eight to nine months of the WorkChoices legislation. The study was funded by the NSW, Qld and Vic IR Departments and involved 20 researchers.

Evesson emphasised that the study was not a 'sample', every agreement had been painstakingly compared against the previous non-WorkChoices agreement at the individual workplace, and/or the appropriate award applying to the workers.

Significant erosion

The study found significant erosion of award conditions that the Federal Government said were 'protected by law' when WorkChoices was introduced.

It found that 65%-75% of the agreements were 'minimalist' in that they reflected the basis statutory standard, removed protected award matters and prescribed general rostering rules.

Between 25%-35% were 'broad spectrum' agreements which:

  • went above and beyond the statutory standard
  • retained protected award matters
  • were more likely to regulate hours
  • were more likely to provide for agreed patters of hours for part-time workers, and
  • followed the contours of the award

While only 10% of the 339 agreements were involved unions, all of them were in the 'broad spectrum' segment.

The protected award matters most likely to be explicitly excluded in the WorkChoices agreements were:

  • Paid breaks (43%)
  • Public holiday loading (37%)
  • Overtime loading (31%)
  • Sunday loadings (22%)
  • Annual leave loading (15%)
  • Saturday loadings (14%)

Whilst WorkChoices was hailed as being an opportunity for employers and employees to work out working conditions which suited their individual cases and the needs of the workplace, the study found that 49% of the agreements were based on 'templates'.

It found that 65% of the agreements were from templates created by consultants and lawyers, and a further 15% by employer associations.

Fairness test won't fix all

The study also found that while some of the losses in the pre-fairness test agreements would be made up in some way by the test, others would not.

Those the fairness test will not apply to include:

  • Decreased casual loadings
  • Removed severance pay
  • Removed rostered days off
  • Removed minimum part time daily hours
  • Removed time off after overtime

'The fairness test cannot solve all the problems,' Evesson said. 'The two main areas of loss under these agreements were money and the regulation of hours. It is more difficult to quantify the impact of lost hours regulation, but it hits hard women with kids.'

Don't need AWAs

Evesson said the study shows employers 'don't have to go to AWAs; if they want to lower standards they can use collective agreements and get the same outcome'.

'The "bad apple" syndrome is not true. It is not "rogue employers". It is in mainstream agreement making. Consultants are spruiking them, the Government has sent the message.

'The employers are determined to take advantage of this. The agreements are very uniform, not tailored to the workplace. There is very little bargaining. And it could be a lot worse in AWAs where 28% are actually breaching the law.'

Not a pretty picture

Evesson said the changes have occurred in 'one generation' and there has been a 'very, very significant dropping in standards'.

'There is no reason it can't be extrapolated to other industries,' she said. 'It is not a pretty picture. The State Governments expected it to be a five-year project, but we got the outcome in one year.

'It is not about "bargaining", it is about moving from an industrial agreement to a statutory agreement.'

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