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Negotiating the new industrial landscape

A SIGNIFICANT portion of the WA Government’s new industrial relations laws come into effect today (Thursday August 1), including the controversial union right of entry provisions.

Besides the right of entry pro-visions, changes to unfair dismissal laws, minimum conditions of employment and changes that allow the WA Industrial Relations Com-mission to make enterprise orders become active.

However, the more controversial provision that removes workplace agreements and replaces them with Employee-Employer Agreements is not due to come into effect until September.

Most IR experts are predicting a rush of union activism, particularly targeting big business, however they do not expect too great an impact on most small businesses.

Those most affected will be small businesses operating in building subcontracting, contract haulage, security and contract cleaning.

They are largely undecided on the benefits of the good faith bargaining provisions in the legislation, which will allow the WAIRC to make enterprise orders if union-employer bargaining breaks down.

Where small businesses are likely to get hurt is with the changes to the Minimum Conditions of Employment Act.

The pay scale under this act has been increased to $431.40 a week and there could be effects on the flexibility available to employers.

Jackson McDonald partner Greg Smith said the introduction of the new IR laws could find some organisations wanting.

“One of the problems organisations may have is that they have dispensed with their in-house industrial relations teams. Some businesses may need to get them back in or to get some very good advice on tap,” he said.

“Whether the commission will use its ability to award enterprise orders remains to be seen. The unions can lose just as much from this provision as employers.”

Freehills partner Russell Allen said he believed the WAIRC would make full use of its enterprise order powers.

“In my experience whenever the WAIRC has been given new powers it usually uses them,” he said.

“With the enterprise orders we’re likely to see unions use the provision in areas where they don’t have industrial muscle. This will provide an avenue for unions to seek in-creased wages and conditions for their members where they couldn’t before.”

Blake Dawson Waldron partner David Parker said there were a lot of issues for employers to consider.

“In particular, the concept of good faith bargaining may well create problems, for example, where a union that only represents a small minority of the workforce is demanding a right to bargain. There is the potential for the wishes of the majority of the workforce to be overridden and for the individual rights of employees to be ignored,” he said.

“There has clearly been a policy decision on behalf of the Government to increase the roles of unions and the commission in the regulation of employment conditions.”

Unions WA secretary Stephanie Mayman said the right of entry provisions coming into effect were exactly the same as those unions had used for a hundred years – until 1997.

“The world didn’t end during those 100 years and it won’t end on August 1,” she said.

“I expect unions will use those right of entry provisions. It is an important right and should be respected by employers and it should be respected by unions.”

Ms Mayman said the enterprise orders were similar to the final order arbitration system offered by the Federal industrial relations system, but would not prove as cumbersome to use.

“Applying for enterprise orders is a quick solution and I have no doubt they will be used,” she said.

“But above all, employers have nothing to fear from this legislation.”

Mr Smith said employers paying on the minimum conditions of employment scale would lose out in terms of flexibility.

“Employers are going to have to pay for flexibility,” he said.

“Those paying on the minimum conditions scale will be hardest hit by the changes and will have the least flexibility.”

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