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WorkChoices irrelevant to most retail and hospitality SMEs: report

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The vast majority of SMEs in Victoria’s retail and hospitality sector did not make any change to the way they employ people after WorkChoices was introduced, according to a new report by the Victorian Government’s Workplace Rights Advocate.

Well over 80% of respondents to the survey of 400 small and medium-sized employers in the sector said that they had seen no reason to make any change to their employment practices when WorkChoices was introduced because “things were fine as they were”.

And, it appears, the complexity of the WorkChoices IR regime may also have been a factor: only 44% of employers surveyed agreed that the industrial relations system was simpler under WorkChoices.

Almost 60% of SMEs surveyed also disagreed with the proposition that WorkChoices – under which businesses with less than 100 employees are exempt from unfair dismissal laws – “makes things better for small business”.

It appears that the skills shortage may be a key factor in the findings, which defy the widely held view that SMEs are heavily in favour of WorkChoices. Well over half of the SMEs surveyed said the biggest challenge they faced was finding and keeping good staff – a fact that may reduce any options for lowering employment costs through WorkChoices.

According to the report, however, wages in the Victorian retail and hospitality sectors have become less competitive since the introduction of WorkChoices. By looking at a combination of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, newspaper reports and information given by callers to the Workplace Rights Advocate’s information line, the report found that wages in retail have fallen 1.3% compared to the state average since the introduction of WorkChoices and hospitality had fallen 0.7%.

In other IR news, leaders from both political parties yesterday promised that employees would not be worse off under any award rationalisation process.

The business community has previously expressed concern that this could mean wages will be rounded up in the process of reducing the number of awards governing employee wages and conditions.

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