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IR laws difficult to digest

THE Howard government’s WorkChoices industrial relations legislation came into effect on Monday, accompanied by a raft of new regulations that has left employer groups scrambling to comply with the changes. Unions working with employers to implement WorkChoice compliant agreements now have to factor in the strict guidelines set down in the regulations. The main point at issue is what is referred to as ‘prohibited content’, which is content that can no longer be written into workplace agreements. This includes restrictions on the use of independent contractors or on-hire arrangements, provisions for industrial action or support of union activities, clauses concerned with re-negotiation, unfair dismissal provisions and restrictions on cashing-out annual leave. Tony Thompson, managing director of industrial relations consultants Workplace Professionals, said Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews had significant power to strike out Awards. “He can prescribe what is ‘prohibited content’ and no other industrial relations minister has ever had such power,” he said. The legislation itself will impact primarily on employers that operate as a Pty Ltd company or an incorporated entity. While the new legislation has largely been supported by employers, the regulations and timing of their introduction have received little support from any of the participants in the industrial relations debate. “The new laws won’t simplify workplace practice at all,” Mr Thompson said. “You can’t implement significant change into business in a week, especially small business which has ongoing concerns like cash-flow. “The unfair dismissal component will make life easier for employers. The downside is leave entitlements are much more onerous for the employer.” Leave entitlements under the new legislation certainly appear quite generous for employees. Up to 10 days of annual leave can be cashed-out, but only at the request of the employee. In addition to annual leave, all full-time and part-time employees will receive 10 days personal/carers leave after 12 months service. And, after 12 months continuous service an employee will be entitled to up to 52 weeks unpaid parental leave. In relation to dismissal, if a business employs 100 or less staff, employees will not be able to make an unfair dismissal claim. And, in a company of more than 100 staff, an employee will also have no grounds for an unfair dismissal claim if they are dismissed as a result of a company restructure. There is a major area of change surrounding commission only employees, who will now be required to be paid the minimum hourly rate, of $12.75, for the first 38 hours worked. There is no definition of a casual employee in the legislation, which is strange considering the legislation stipulates that casual employees must be paid a 20 per cent loading. WorkChoices also removes the requirement for small businesses, of less than 15 employees, from having to make redundancy payments if an employee is made redundant.

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