Gillard agrees to union demand for new take-home pay rules

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard has clarified the rules around when unions can apply for take-home pay orders in a move which employer groups have criticised as another example of the Government “bending over backwards” for unions.

Take-home pay orders are designed to protect workers who might have lost pay or conditions when they moved from a state award to a new Modern Award.

Where worker’s conditions were lower under a new award, an employee could apply for a take-home pay order to restore them to their old conditions.

But unions have been pressuring the Government to change the way these take-home pay orders work, arguing some employers would use the transition to the new awards to cut workers’ pay.

For example, the Australian Nursing Federation claimed 15,000 members, particularly those in NSW and Queensland, would be worse off under the Modern Award.

But under new rules introduced by Gillard, the unions will be able to apply for Fair Work Australia for take-home pay orders before workers transition from a state award to a Modern Award, where the union expects a reduction in take-home pay is likely to occur.

And the unions won’t need to apply on behalf of individual workers – they will be able to apply for orders covering an entire class of workers.

Jeff Lawrence, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, says the move to Modern Awards was “never intended to give employers a green light to cut wages”.

“These changes further clarify that, and unions will be vigilant in ensuring that wages are maintained or improved.”

However, head of workplace policy at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, David Gregory, has described the new rules as “overkill” given that the vast majority of employers would have ensured workers’ conditions were protected under the Modern Award.

He also says that given that most Modern Awards don’t come into force until July 1, there was no evidence that the original take-home pay system wouldn’t have worked.

“Our immediate reaction was here is the Government again bending over backwards for unions. It’s a fair bit of overkill,” Gregory told SmartCompany.

“But it again highlights for us that despite the Government’s earlier insistence employers wouldn’t incur additional costs under Fair Work, we are seeing employers are being burdened under Modern Awards.”

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