Thursday, April 10, 2008


Push for limits on contracts

Mark Davis Political Correspondent, smh

April 10, 2008

UNIONS are pushing for stringent safeguards for employees under the Federal Government's plans to allow employers to negotiate new flexibility agreements with individual workers.

Senior officials from large unions have told the Herald they will insist that unions be notified when employers use the new provisions to make agreements with individual workers. And they want the scope of these agreements to be limited to ensure they do not become "worse than an Australian Workplace Agreement".

The Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, has asked the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to prepare a model flexibility clause to be included in federal awards.

In last month's request, Ms Gillard told the commission the clause should enable employers and employees to reach agreements to meet genuine individual needs. She said the commission should ensure these agreements cannot disadvantage workers.

Labor promised the agreements last year to address employer concerns that abolishing AWAs would stifle flexibility.

The national president of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Julius Roe, said individual flexibility must be implemented in a way that protected employees and the integrity of the award system.

Mr Roe said the union would pursue its concerns with the commission. But if the commission's clause was unsatisfactory the union would ask the Government to entrench safeguards in legislation. The union wanted the clause to exclude some award provisions, such as those dealing with working hours, from being modified by such agreements.

"It would be ludicrous to have a flexibility clause that says you can agree to change anything in the award full stop. That would be even worse than an AWA in that there are clearly some things you should not be able to change by individual agreement," Mr Roe said.

"A good example of that is overtime and working hours where an employer might find a vulnerable worker to reach agreement to work, say, on a Saturday where the majority of workers do not want the factory opening on a Saturday. Where it is the sort of flexibility that has the potential to undermine the collective there should be consultation with and approval by the collective."

The manufacturing union also wants unions to have access to the agreements.

The national secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, Joe de Bruyn, said employers should not be allowed to offer flexibility agreements to new employees as a condition of employment. Workers should be free to withdraw from the agreements at any time and there should be commission scrutiny to ensure employees were not disadvantaged.

"If it is going to be subject to a no-disadvantage test then somebody has to make an assessment of whether that test has been passed," Mr de Bruyn said. "It is not something that should be left to the employer's judgment."

He said employers should notify unions of their intention to negotiate flexibility agreements so the union could offer advice to affected employees.

The national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union construction division, Dave Noonan, said there was a potential for flexibility agreements to be abused.

"For construction workers flexibility has been a one-way street where employers have traditionally imposed all sorts of arrangements on them," Mr Noonan said.