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Labor changes could cripple the workplace

SMALL businesses, disabled workers and low-income earners are likely to be the first to suffer under Labor’s repeal of the Workplace Agreements Act.

The Act took effect in 1993 and has proved popular with employers. Between 7,000 and 8,000 agreements are lodged with the Workplace Agree-ments Commissioner every month.

Labor plans to repeal the Act when Parliament sits in May and replace it with Employee Employer Agreements that are underpinned by Award conditions but supposed to provide employment flexibility.

But there is a fear that these EEAs will be made too difficult for most employers to use.

The Greens, who will hold the balance of power when Parliament sits again, are opposed to any form of individual employment contracts.

Industrial relations experts believe the Greens will use this power to stymie the EEAs.

Workplace Agreements were underpinned by the Minimum Conditions of Employment which is below most Award conditions, so the introduction of the new EEAs will probably increase wage costs.

Minter Ellison associate, Andrew Burnett, said this would cause small businesses pain because they had budgeted for wages based on the old workplace agreement regime.

People with considerable disabilities are also expecting to find it very hard to find work with the removal of workplace agreements.

Rocky Bay Employment Services manager Alexei Porter said about 70 per cent of her organisation’s clients were on workplace agreements.

“If they weren’t they wouldn’t get a job,” Ms Porter said.

“Through Workplace Agreements we’ve been able to negotiate conditions that get these people jobs. Under the Award it will be much

harder.”

Ms Porter said money was not a motivating factor for many of the disabled people who went through Rocky Bay.

“These people want to feel they are contributing something,” she said.

“Most of them have carers living with them full-time and this gives those carers a break too.”

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director operations Brendan McCarthy said work-place agreements had been great for helping people get on to the first employment rung.

He believes repealing the Act will make it very difficult for low-paid, unskilled employees to keep or find employment.

“Those who are vulnerable in the workplace will become even more vulnerable,” Mr McCarthy said.

Blake Dawson Waldron industrial relations and employment law group senior associate, David Parker, said the effect of the repeal of the Workplace Agreements Act would depend on the particular workplace and the industry concerned.

“In workplaces where workplace agreements are essen-tially add-ons to award conditions there will be less of an impact as terms and conditions in excess of an award can be dealt with in the contract of employment,” Mr Parker said.

“In workplaces where there are substantial differences between the terms and conditions in the workplace and those in an award that applies to the work, the impact may be substantial.

“Where an employer and employee have agreed on more flexible practices, such as flexible hours or all-purpose rates, a return to the award provisions may have serious implications.

“Employers may face increased costs and employees may find benefits they were provided in exchange for flexible work practices under a workplace agreement are no longer on offer.”

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