Australian workplaces are preparing for a readjustment of employment conditions under the Federal Government's planned shake-up of workplace relations. The remainder of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) ('the Act') comes into force on 1 January 2010, bringing with it a myriad of Modern Awards and changes in workplace standards.
As a major part of the Government's "Forward with Fairness" Policy, the Act aims to create a unified national industrial relations system that will ensure balance and fairness for all Australian workers. The Federal Government will assume power over certain employment standards, previously administered by the states, to introduce consistency across all Australian workplaces.
Workplaces are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the new Act and relevant Modern Awards. Of particular significance is the new Banking, Finance and Insurance Award ('the Banking Award'), effective as of 1 January 2010. The Banking Award, prescribed by the Act, will prevail over state imposed awards unless expressly provided for by the Act. It works to regulate the terms and conditions of employment for all employees in the banking, finance and insurance industries, irrespective of their role. It will therefore be the applicable award for many clerical employees who were previously covered by the NSW Clerical & Administrative Employees Award.
The New Award introduces an extra employee grade to aid in the distinction between employee roles, updating to a grading scale of one through six. While the grading of an employee will continue to increase in accordance with the skill and knowledge required in the proper execution of their employment tasks, the terms of reference for each grade have been significantly altered to better correspond with the duties and responsibilities particular to the banking, finance and insurance industries. It is anticipated that the new guidelines will enable a fairer assessment of employee roles and changing skill requirements within identified industries. All workplaces will need to re-evaluate their employee duties and responsibilities accordingly.
It is similarly important that employers ensure compliance with revised minimum wages for the respective grading. The standard minimum wage, which reflects current basic fairness requirements, has changed to adopt the new grading system. Further changes to wages may become necessary after reassessment of employee grading within the workplace. The new rate of pay will override any lower rates made in earlier enterprise agreements and will continue to be reviewed annually.
Other changes under the Act and Banking Award include an increase of sick leave entitlements, an adjustment of meal break allowances and a reassessment of unfair dismissal laws.
A key element of the Government's policy is the encouragement of greater flexibility within the employment relationship. The framework for enterprise agreements is premised in good faith bargaining and the promotion of a more balanced approach to workplace standards. Where appropriate, the Act allows for bargaining between employers and their employees regarding employment conditions such as overtime rates, penalty rates, allowances and leave loading.
In support of this, the New Award includes a flexibility term and guidelines for the implementation of individual or collective agreements, which may be used to vary the application of award terms in order to meet those specific needs of the employment relationship. Any such agreement will be carefully regulated by the Award in its negotiation and execution.
Fair Work Australia
Seven former Government bodies have been superseded by Fair Work Australia, a new and independent national workplace relations tribunal. Heralded by the Government as the "one-stop shop" for information and assistance on workplace issues, Fair Work Australia will be the point of call for any issues arising under the Act. As well as managing industrial relations and dispute resolution, the tribunal will conduct four yearly reviews of the New Award to maintain a relevant and fair minimum safety net for Australian workers.