The Australian Industry Group has welcomed a decision by Fair Work Australia to terminate hundreds of old awards to make away for the new modern award system, in a move the group says will eliminate confusion for thousands of small businesses.
The decision is a blow to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which argued that before the awards were to be scrapped they must undergo a thorough revision process.
Australian Industry Group head of industrial relations Stephen Smith says the decision will simplify workplace issues for businesses, which only have to identify workers under modern awards.
“The 122 modern awards came in last January, and in developing these modern awards, there were hundreds of awards that had been there before – but they hadn’t been terminated,” he says.
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“One of the key issues with those awards was with how the legislation was being interpreted. Our interpretation was that the tribunal needs to terminate those, but the ACTU argued that the awards needed to be kept in place.”
But Smith argues that by keeping those old awards in place, the ACTU would have opened up award coverage issues which had already been resolved. “It would have made the whole thing unworkable,” he says.
The problem with the two award systems operating at once is that some aspects of the old awards would still be in place.
“For anyone covered under a modern award, this won’t mean anything. But there were arguments during that process about whether employees should be, or shouldn’t be, in a modern award.”
“For example, in one part of the decision that deals with IT professionals, the common Victorian award covering IT professionals covered professionals in any industry, but in other states that wasn’t the case.”
Smith says that by modernising the award, some of these employees will lose some coverage under old awards, “but that doesn’t mean their terms and conditions will change as part of their enterprise agreements”.
Smith also argues that the vast majority of workers will have been covered by the modern award process, and that any industry that wishes to identify some issues needs to make a submission by March 2011.
“In light of the views expressed in this decision concerning the interpretation and application of the relevant provisions we are optimistic that many of the issues raised to date will have been resolved and that the number of submissions will be limited,” the FWA tribunal said.
In a statement, AIG chief executive Heather Ridout said the decision is “an important step in delivering a genuinely modern award system for Australia”