UNCERTAINTY surrounding the implementation of award conditions for Victorian law firms has applied the brakes to recent efforts to secure a pay rise for the state’s articled clerks.
In May this year, Lawyers Weekly revealed that Victorian Young Lawyers (YL) had begun investigating measures to increase the minimum wage level for ACs, which currently stands at $22,483.67 per annum under the Property and Business Services Sector Award.
However, recent moves by the State Government to re-introduce wholesale award conditions after a ten year absence, detailed by Lawyers Weekly this month, has stalled YL’s efforts.
Bill O’Shea, president of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) — which includes YL — confirmed the guild was awaiting the details of any overall award before revisiting the issue of AC pay levels.
Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls is currently believed to be mulling over a draft Bill from the Commonwealth Government that, if accepted, would mean that all workplaces would be bound by a common rule Federal award. If no understanding can be reached between the two government strata, Hulls will revert to a state-based system under the auspices of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Many lawyers well acquainted with the present state of affairs, including O’Shea, predict law firms will be answerable to the Victorian Legal Professional, Clerical and Administrative Employees Award (1993) pursuant to any prescriptive model.
Updated minimum pay rates of that award stipulate ACs are to be paid at least $583.90 per week, or $30,362.80 per annum, in addition to other entitlements such as holiday loading and overtime.
Insiders believe Hulls is very close to finalising his examination of the Bill and thus predict the award should be activated early next year.
“Until we know what’s going on with this award, the articled clerk pay rise issue has been put on hold,” O’Shea said.
The Hunt & Hunt partner acknowledged that many firms, especially large CBD-based commercial practices, were already paying ACs rates over and above those provided for in the mooted award.
“But it could cause problems for country and suburban firms, where pay rates aren’t generally as high [as the CBD],” he said.
Already this year, concerns relating to the welfare of the AC system on a number of fronts aside from wages have arisen. Most notably, intakes dropped significantly in 2003 — a phenomenon that prompted O’Shea and LIV chief executive John Cain to recommend students look beyond Melbourne’s city limits when applying for clerkships.