No agreement on IR laws

THE potential consequences from the repeal of the Workplace Agreements Act are proving a major hurdle for the WA Government’s rewrite of industrial relations laws.

The Act set up the framework for the workplace agreements that allowed employers to negotiate more flexible work practices with their employees.

Some IR experts believe workplace agreements will continue as common law contracts when the Act is repealed. This could block the Government’s attempts to have all contracts of employment underpinned by Awards.

Others believe the removal of the Act will cause employers to revert to Awards that may cause workers in some industries to take major pay cuts.

Another concern is that employees in some industries will receive the best of both worlds – the higher pay of the workplace agreement with the flexible work practices being over-ridden by the applicable Award.

The Government promised to repeal the Act when it was elected in February and its rewrite of WA’s industrial relations legislation was due for release in July. That release was postponed until September and now it appears the Bill will not be tabled in Parliament until the end of the year.

Unless Parliament is prepared to sit through its normal summer recess it is unlikely the new IR laws will be passed until February or March.

Workplace Agreements managing director Tony Thompson said most workplace agreements had clauses preventing employees returning to the Award system when the agreement concluded.

“The workplace agreement may expire but the terms and conditions continue as a common law contract,” Mr Thompson said.

Minter Ellison senior associate Andrew Burnett said a section of the Workplace Agreements Act stipulated that the Award took over when the agreement ceased.

“In the absence of workplace agreements employees will fall back on the Award. In many cases the pay rates for Awards is below what was negotiated for workplace agreements,” Mr Burnett said.

Blake Dawson Waldron industrial relations and employment group partner David Parker said the Government had indicated a return to the Award system.

“If that happens, existing workplace agreements, which include terms and conditions that are inconsistent with applicable Awards, will no longer prevail. This creates a risk for employers,” Mr Parker said.

“There is definitely the prospect of employees having the best of both worlds. They may continue to have a right to the higher rates of pay but the flexibilities will disappear.”

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