04/06/2008 - 22:00

Mixed reaction to new awards

04/06/2008 - 22:00

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State employer organisations and unions have voiced concerns over the federal government’s overhaul of more than 4,000 industrial awards, to be completed in less than two years.

REBUILDING: The federal government is overhauling thousands of industrial awards by 2010.

State employer organisations and unions have voiced concerns over the federal government's overhaul of more than 4,000 industrial awards, to be completed in less than two years.

Discussion of the award modernisation process officially commenced last week when hearings between the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and workplace relations stakeholders were held in capital cities across the country.

At those hearings, representatives from employee and employer groups, unions and other interested parties were invited to comment on the process, aimed at simplifying awards and reducing the regulatory burden on businesses.

It's all part of the Rudd government's Forward with Fairness policy, which aims to implement a new workplace relations system in January 2010.

In Perth last week, at least six representatives from unions and employer organisations made oral submissions to the full bench of the AIRC about their thoughts on three key areas being tackled.

The AIRC has a directive from the federal government to first discuss the timetable of the award modernisation process, the list of priority industries that are up for modernisation in the first stage, and a model award flexibility clause that creates more flexibility for individual workers under the system.

It is the latter point that has unions across the country worried.

Unions WA assistant secretary Simone McGurk told WA Business News that while the union supports the modernisation process, it was concerned about heading back into the direction of the controversial Australian Workplaces Agreements.

"An essential ingredient that unions would want in any flexibility clause is maintaining the collective nature of any decision making," Ms McGurk said.

"We just want to make sure that the award safety net is maintained and that any flexibility provisions don't undermine the award, and that where those flexibility changes affect people that they get a say in them through collective arrangements."

For the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA, one of the key concerns is the timetable of the process.

"There's very little time to consult with members about this, you do need a bit more time to properly digest what's required and work out who's going to be affected by what, because there are going to be huge impacts," Ms Kuhne said.

"But the commission has a job to do, they've been directed by legislation to adhere to the timetable and get the job done and CCI will help to the best of their ability."

Written submissions from interested parties are due this week and the AIRC will publish a list of priority industries by June 20. Those industries will be the first to complete the award modernisation process, scheduled to finish by the end of this year.

CCIWA has identified a number of WA industries and professions that should be given priority including retail, hospitality, clothing, food manufacturing and metal trades sectors.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association is pushing for the inclusion of the mining industry on the priority list.

The AMMA argues in its submission the sector should be included due to the high number of mining employees, around 63 per cent, who have signed an AWA.

It said the inclusion would be consistent with the workplace minister's request.

Under its directive, the commission is to give regard to industries that have a high number of AWAs. The commission has already included the coal industry on its draft priority list.

Completion of the award modernisation process for all industries is scheduled for the end of 2009.

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