Union workplace case fails

A UNION attempt to override WA’s Workplace Agreements with a Federal Award has failed in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Cited as a significant case, the commission’s full bench has decided not to hear an industrial dispute in relation to employees signed to State workplace agreements which had been challenged by the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia.

The commission’s decision related to an attempt to create an interim Federal Award to overrule the WA Workplace Agreements that had been signed by the staff of two Armadale veterinary practices.

However, observers said the collapse of the union’s case did not signal the end of attempts to override Workplace Agreements with Federal Awards.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry manager employee relations Bruce Williams said unions had long tried to put Federal Awards in place to overrule WA workplace agreements.

“That used to apply until 1996, when the law was changed,” Mr Williams said.

“This decision confirms what the legislation has said since 1996, that the Industrial Relations Commission will not assist unions by putting in place Federal Awards to overturn workplace agreements.

“While this is about employment, it runs parallel to other contract agreements. It means they won’t be changed by any third party.”

Combined Small Business Associations of WA president Oliver Moon said while the decision gave WA workplace agreements credibility, employers should not get too optimistic.

“In this case the employees said they were all happy with their workplace agreement,” Mr Moon said.

“There’s a section in the Federal Workplace Relations Act that says people can’t be roped into a Federal Award if it is against the public interest. All of the employees being happy with the agreement means it is in the public interest.”

“But every case has to be dealt with on its merits. This case sets an important precedent. The Commission said in its judgement that people have to be genuinely happy with the registered agreement that governs their workplace for this section to apply.”

Mr Moon said the workplace agreement also had to meet the minimum conditions of employment test and be shown that employees had not been coerced into signing the agreement.

Despite the win in the AIRC, WA’s Workplace Agreements Act regime faces another challenge from within the State.

The Miscellaneous Workers Union is trying to have the Industrial Relations Commission redefine the WA employment framework.

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