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Forward with Fairness

What Does it Mean For Your Business?

 

“We believe our economy can go forward, but with fairness.” 

Kevin Rudd MP and Julia Gillard MP, Forward with Fairness (April 2007) 

~~~~~~~~~ 

 

On 19 March 2008, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008 was passed by the Australian Parliament.  This Bill was followed 12 months later by the Fair Work Act 2009, passed by Parliament on 20 March 2009.  These pieces of legislation repeal most of the Workplace Relations Act (1996), further dismantle Work Choices, and result in some significant changes to the industrial landscape.  The first batch of reforms take effect from 1 July 2009, with the new workplace relations system fully operational from 1 January 2010.   

 

So what will ‘Forward with Fairness’ and the Fair Work Act 2009 mean for you, your business, and your staff? 

 

Firstly, an overview...   

 

The Federal Government has promoted ‘Forward with Fairness’ as a series of reforms that will ensure: 

  • a uniform national industrial relations system 
  • a strong and simple safety net 
  • fairness, choice and representation at work 
  • productivity and fairness through collective agreements 
  • a fair and independent umpire in the form of Fair Work Australia 
  • a fresh approach to protection from unfair dismissal 

 

Will it ensure these things?  Perhaps... perhaps not.  And at what cost and consequence to employers?  Well, that depends who you ask, and ultimately, that question is moot – the Bills have been passed, the initial reforms will take effect in two months, and the whole system will be in full swing six months later. The more relevant question to ask, therefore, is “Are you ready?” 

 

Let’s look first at the most pressing issues – the reforms that kick in on 1 July 2009. 

 

1 July 2009 

 

  • The Fair Work Act 2009 comes into effect. 
  • Fair Work Australia opens for business as the independent body that will oversee the new workplace relations system, both in terms of advice and compliance. 
  • Changes to unfair dismissal laws, particularly affecting businesses employing less than 100 staff and removing the ‘operational reasons’ justification used as a defence in the past (but not removing the right to summarily dismiss an employee for misconduct; terminate employment in cases of poor performance, providing appropriate performance management processes have been followed; or implement genuine redundancies). 
  • New laws governing enterprise bargaining and agreements, promoting collective bargaining and good faith bargaining requirements, and removing the right to enter into individual agreements such as AWAs (although individual transitional employment agreements will continue to be allowed in some workplaces until 31 December 2009). 
  • Entitlement of employees to take protected industrial action to support or advance claims during collective bargaining. 

 

Once these reforms are in place, attention will turn next to the remaining and even more significant reforms which will be in place by or from 1 January 2010. 

 

1 January 2010 

 

  • Fair Work Australia expands to become a fully operational ‘one-stop shop’ for both employers and employees, with increased powers and influence. 
  • The completion of award modernisation and simplification, which has already begun and which will see 3000+ federal and state awards reduced to around 100, with each to be reviewed every four years. 
  • The replacement of the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard with 10 National Employment Standards: 

1.    maximum weekly hours 

2.    flexible work arrangements 

3.    parental leave and related entitlements 

4.    annual leave 

5.    personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave 

6.    community service leave 

7.    long service leave 

8.    public holidays 

9.    notice of termination and redundancy pay 

10. provision of information about Fair Work 

·      The application by Fair Work Australia of the ‘Better Off Overall Test’ to ensure that award-covered employee to be covered by an enterprise agreement will be better off overall in comparison to the relevant (modern) award. 

 

Employers’ best approach to the Forward with Fairness reforms fast coming over the horizon on 1 July 2009 and those that will follow on 1 January 2010 is to be informed and be prepared – research the reforms and how they will affect your workplace; review the systems, agreements and practices you have in place now; and make the changes you need to make before or from the date the relevant reforms take effect. 

 

For further information about Forward with Fairness and the Fair Work Act 2009 go to: 

www.workplace.gov.au and follow the link to Australia’s New Workplace Relations System.  

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

 

By Trevor Neville, Principal, and Kirsten Ferguson (Human Resource Management Consultant and Life Coach), TranZition Professional and Executive Recruitment, Level 3 Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane Qld 4000. Email: trevor@tranzition.com.au  Web: www.tranzition.com.au 

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