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Employers take route to AWAs

FURTHER evidence is emerging that WA businesses are seeking protection under the Federal industrial relations system, particularly through the use of Australian Workplace Agreements.

Recent changes to WA’s industrial relations laws, which will ultimately include the removal of the popular State workplace agreements, are being blamed for the exodus.

Office of the Employment Advocate figures released this month showed that the rate of AWA registrations nearly doubled in the three months to July.

Federal AWAs became available in 1997 and, since then, WA’s share of them has been 11.3 per cent. However, in the July quarter that share of the national total jumped to 21.3 per cent.

Panellists at a recent IR lunch held by WA Business News predicted that the changes to WA’s IR laws would result in the demise of the State system.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director employee relations Bruce Williams said employers were reacting to the changes in the State IR system.

“Clearly employers were already judging the Gallop Government’s changes as negative for their businesses before the legislation was even passed and have been voting with their feet and moving their employment arrangements across to the Federal Workplace Relations Act,” he said.

“It is a signal that employers do not accept the new WA Government’s model of Employee-Employer Agreements as a real alternative to the form of State workplace agreements that operated in WA since 1993.”

Office of the Employment Advocate WA regional manager Rod Dewsbury said abolition of State workplace agreements appeared to be the main driver for businesses turning to the Federal system.

“We’ve been getting a huge number of enquiries,” he said.

AJ Durack Management director Tony Durack said there was a big move towards AWAs, and he expected it to continue for some time.

“People are saying they want to retain an individual contract environment and this is the only way they can do it,” he said.

However, AWAs may not be the panacea businesses are looking for. Firstly, all AWAs have to meet the requirements of the relevant award.

Businesses that are not incorporated cannot use them.

There are also concerns that the WA Industrial Relations Commission will eventually ratchet up rates of pay under WA awards to reduce the leverage employers have to encourage their workers to sign AWAs.

Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke said he supported the right of employers to choose the form of employment relationship they wanted but did not believe the AWA exodus was a big concern.

“This contrasts with the previous government, which attempted to penalise parties who moved from the State jurisdiction to the Federal one,” he said.

“The number of people from WA who have registered AWAs is a tiny fraction of the total workforce. Nationally, less than 3 per cent of the workforce is on AWAs and the WA figures are significantly lower than that.

“The figures from the Office of the Employment Advocate cover a short and unrepresentative period in which employers and employees will be adjusting to the reformed WA labour relations system.”

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