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WorkChoices provides agreement choices

THE Federal Government’s WorkChoices package of industrial relations reforms came into force late last month. Like all new pieces of legislation, it will take time to unfold in terms of employers, employees and unions fully understanding what has changed and the opportunities now available to do things differently and better. But getting your mind around over 1,000 pages of legislation and regulations is no mean feat and we suggest you leave that to your industry association. In a nutshell the new industrial relations environment provides employees and their employers with a huge opportunity to negotiate their own conditions of employment and take responsibility for their own workplace relationship. The role of unions has been reduced considerably. Although some employers have been negotiating the conditions of employment of their workforce for many years, some will find this new opportunity somewhat daunting. Who can make an agreement? THE amended federal Workplace Relations Act applies to all trading corporations from March 27. Those employers who fall into this category are now covered by the new federal industrial relations (IR) system. Those not covered are partnerships and sole traders, previously covered by the Western Australian IR system. In essence, the new federal Workplace Relations Act only allows employers structured as trading corporations, or their appointed and federally registered bargaining agent, to apply for a new federal workplace agreement. Unions are not recognised as having authority to make such applications in their own right. The new federal IR system also provides employers with flexibility in the types of employment contracts they may have, which extends beyond workplace agreements such as Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and/or Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs). So an employer may enter into a common law contract with their employee(s), but this contract must contain the minimum employment conditions prescribed in the Workplace Relations Act. What types of agreements exist? The emphasis of the new federal IR system encourages direct negotiations between an employer and their employees about their workplace arrangements, including what type of workplace agreement or range of agreements they want at the workplace. A workplace may have a range of differing arrangements in place, dependant on the needs of the business. Notably, the new federal agreement system differs from the previous one in that new federal agreements entirely replace awards. That is, a new federal agreement stands alone and reflects the entire contract of employment between the employer and employee(s). There are six types of workplace agreements offered under the Workplace Relations Act: Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA), an individual workplace agreement between an employer and employee that may be made before the commencement of employment and be a condition of employment. Employee Collective Agreement between an employer and group of employees, similar to the previous federal non-union EBA. Union Collective Agreement between an employer and union(s) representing employees at the workplace where the union(s) has at least one member. Union Greenfields Agreement between an employer and union(s) with coverage of future employees at a future construction project, business or undertaking. Employer Greenfields Agreement between an employer and future workforce of a future construction project, undertaking or business. Multiple Business Agreement essentially covers franchisee type operations or a business with multiple independent outlets. Prohibited content Employers applying for a new federal workplace agreement either directly or through a federally registered bargaining agent need to adopt some caution given the penalties against including prohibited provisions in the proposed agreement — up to $33,000 for corporations and up to $6,000 for individuals. Prohibited content matters include: • union payroll deductions and bargaining agent’s fees; • paid union meeting time and union training leave; • mandatory renegotiation of a workplace agreement; • restrictions on negotiating any type of workplace agreement; • mandatory involvement of unions or employer associations in dispute settlement procedures; • union right of entry; • restrictions on the use of sub-contractors or labour hire workers. Buying out all annual leave. The Workplace Relations Act requires employees, other than casuals, to have a minimum of 2 weeks paid annual leave per annum; • providing a union with information about employees except for circumstances prescribed by law. For example, time and wages records for union members; • anti-freedom of association provisions; • allowing employees covered by AWAs to participate in industrial action; and • providing an avenue for an employee to claim “harsh, unjust or unreasonable dismissal”. Employers with pre-existing agreements at March 27 are not affected by these provisions, save for restrictions on AWAs and use of contractors or labour hire. After March 27, non-allowable matters become non-enforceable. Federal workplace agreements can only be registered with the Office of Employment Advocate (OEA) and may be filed on line. (www.oea.gov.au). The Master Builders Association is a state-based industry association representing builders, specialist contractors, suppliers and kindred organisations involved in the building and construction industry in Western Australia. The MBA can be contacted on (08) 9476 9800 or via www.mbawa.com.

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