A recent decision of Fair Work Australia has highlighted that the re-regulation of the labour marker under Labor has been inefficient and damaging to business.
Casuals – minimum engagement
The issue of the three-hour minimum for employees under the General Retail Industry Award 2010 has recently been reviewed by Fair Work Australia.
By way of background, when the awards were modernised the Industrial Relations Commission (the forerunner to Fair Work Australia) provided for a minimum three-hour engagement of employees. This placed employers who employed school students for less than three hours in the unenviable position of having to terminate them to comply with the new award.
An application was made to reduce the minimum to two hours. This case was appealed by several employer groups who challenged this before Fair Work Australia in a full bench case. The full bench dismissed the case saying that the employers had not made a general case out for employees reducing the minimum hours, but that a special case may be made out for school students.
So, another application was made regarding school students being employed for 90 minutes by agreement. This was granted by Fair Work Australia. However, the unions didn’t like this and appealed the decision.
Fair Work Australia then stayed (stopped pending appeal) the decision while an appeal was heard.
This issue demonstrates the inflexibility of the Fair Work Act when it comes to actual practical day-to-day employment issues. The issue has now been heard several times by the tribunal without resolution.
With the review of the modern awards coming in 2012, get set for a myriad of other issues to be looked at in the awards which have not worked for employers and employees alike.
New OHS laws
From 1 January, 2012, a new federal occupational health and safety (OHS) regime will commence. The laws will apply to all states and territories and the Commonwealth.
Having OHS laws that are the same in each jurisdiction will give all Australian workers the same work health and safety standards and protection wherever they work. This will reduce confusion and compliance costs over time, particularly for businesses that operate across borders.
Safe Work Australia is as an independent statutory agency responsible for improving occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements across the nation.
The Safe Work Australia members group has 15 members, including an independent chair, nine members representing the Commonwealth and each state and territory, two members representing the interests of workers, two members representing the interests of employers and the CEO of Safe Work Australia.
Businesses that operate across state and territory borders will be subject to the same laws in each jurisdiction. A uniform approach to interpretation and enforcement of those laws will also bring about a greater level of certainty and reduced costs to individual businesses and the economy.
The model Work Health and Safety Act, which has been finalised, will replace state occupational health and safety acts as of 1 January, 2012.
Once the model regulations are finalised they will be introduced in all states, territories, and the Commonwealth, replacing local regulations. The national Codes of Practice will also gradually replace state Compliance Codes.
It’s important to find out your duties under the new act. The act is available on the Safe Work Australia website. The Baking Associations of Australia will be running seminars in the run up to the commencement of the new act.
The WHS regulations include information on how particular sections of the model Work Health and Safety Act are to be implemented.
Work on codes of practice will continue beyond January 2012. The introduction of a new health and safety framework is the perfect time for you to review your safety systems and ensure workplace health and safety is a high priority at your work.
anton duc is workplace relations manager for the baking industry association (nsw employers) and industrial relations advisor for the baking industry association of victoria. anton advises the baa on award modernisation and is also a practicing solicitor with a sydney law firm.