Hot choices for employers

WITH new industrial relations laws expected to be in place by the end of July, employers need to start to work out how their payroll and industrial relations conditions will be affected.

When it becomes law, the Industrial Relations Reform Bill will abolish workplace agreements, give the WA Industrial Relations Commission sweeping powers and give unions the right to inspect employees’ time and wages records.

Employers need to find out:

p what awards cover their businesses,

p when any workplace agreements in place will expire,

p how much their payroll will increase,

p whether the proposed employee-employer agreements are worthwhile, and

p whether the Federal industrial relations system offers better alternatives.

Awards will underpin WA’s new-look IR system and businesses could find that different awards cover different parts of their operations.

Workplace agreements struck after March 21 2001, will run for six months after the IR Reform Bill becomes law, providing they have not already expired.

Those agreements entered into before March 21 will run for 12 months after the new laws come in – not the three years Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke promised.

Pay based on the Minimum Conditions of Employment Act is likely to increase, which could add considerably to the costs most businesses face.

The proposed EEAs threaten to be too difficult for most businesses to use.

Any EEA will have to meet a no-disadvantage test underpinned by the relevant State Award and employers will not be allowed to offer jobs on the basis of signing an EEA under the proposed legislation.

They will also be unable to enter into an EEA if an enterprise bargaining agreement is in place.

An Australian Workplace Agreement – a workplace agreement in the Federal system – operates much like WA’s workplace agreements, except it too has a no-disadvantage test linking it to the relevant Federal Award.

However, the Federal no-disadvantage test will be easier to meet than the one proposed for EEAs.

A Federal certified agreement allows an employer to strike a collective agreement with his or her employees without the involvement of a union.

Under WA’s forthcoming IR system, collective bargaining will have to involve the


The Federal system will also remove the automatic right to inspect the time and wages records of all workers – union members or not – that is being proposed.

However, companies that are not incorporated – such as those operating as sole traders or in partnerships – cannot enter the Federal IR system.

Freehills employee relations practice head Russell Allen said employers needed to get their workers’ time and wages records in order because unions would have the right to inspect them.

“There will be increased administration costs for business because of the increased record-keeping these laws will force on them,” Mr Allen said.

He believes most businesses are better off under the Federal IR system.

Jackson McDonald partner Maria Saraceni said small businesses might want to consider using labour hire or getting their employees to set up true sub contractor arrangements.

“However, there is a risk of the employees falling foul of the Australian Tax Office’s Alienation of Personal Services Income provisions if the sub contractor relationship is not

set up properly,” Ms Saraceni said.

Blake Dawson Waldron partner David Parker said the Federal system would offer some benefits to employers, but they needed to be aware that it came with its own problems.

“But they don’t seem as bad

as what is being proposed in the State system,” Mr Parker said.

Deacons senior associate Alistair Salmon said employers should be doing spot checks on their employment arrangements.

“If employees are on workplace agreements, then they are going to be covered by the awards,” Mr Salmon said.

“In other areas, it’s a matter of battening down the hatches.”

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