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WorkChoices begins to bite

WorkChoices begins to bite

IN A sign of things to come, annual leave loading, penalty rates and shift allowances have been stripped from a majority of workplace agreements since WorkChoices came into effect two months…

IN A sign of things to come, annual leave loading, penalty rates and shift allowances have been stripped from a majority of workplace agreements since WorkChoices came into effect two months ago.

A recent Senate Estimates Committee heard that of the 6,263 agreements lodged with the Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA) since the legislation took effect, a sample analysis revealed 64 per cent removed annual leave loadings, 63 per cent cut penalty rates, 52 per cent cut workers’ shift loadings and 40 per cent stripped workers of public holidays.

The Federal Employment Advocate, Peter McIlwain, warned against jumping to conclusions as the figures were based on an OEA analysis of a sample of Australian workplace agreements (AWAs) lodged in April, the first month of the new WorkChoices system.

“It’s important that people understand that the information which I provided to the Senate Estimates Committee relates to only 250 AWAs, not the total 6,263 lodged during the month,” McIlwain said.

“Further, it is misleading to look at particular employment conditions in isolation - for example, protected award conditions which may have been excluded - without also taking account of other provisions the parties have negotiated.”

The analysis found a further 16 per cent of agreements have dropped all award conditions, replacing them with the Government’s five minimum conditions, while 40 per cent have dropped gazetted public holidays and 22 per cent contain no pay increases over the life of the agreement.

Another 31 per cent of agreements modified overtime loading, with 29 per cent changing rest breaks and 27 per cent altering public holiday payments.

NSW Minister for Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, said workers were too afraid to question the terms of new agreements and have been forced to trade away holiday and sick leave, penalty rates and overtime.

“Time and time again, in the lead-up to the introduction of WorkChoices, the Federal Workplace Relations Minister assured us that award conditions would be protected by law. This guarantee has now been exposed as a sham,” he said.

“With companies reducing entitlements during economic boom times, it raises concerns about what would happen to people’s workplace conditions if there is an economic slow down.”

Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, said he was not worried by the figures and the sample was too small to raise concern.

“It’s nothing new. There are collective agreements which have negotiated away penalty rates for a change in the hourly rate,” he said.

“Anybody who’s drawing too many conclusions from the first 250 that are sampled when there’s no ... correlation of what’s just raw data, I think it’s a bit premature,” he said.

“I’m not going to be drawing all sorts of extreme conclusions in any direction.”

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