AWAs dead but nurses still not secure

AWAs have been banned by Kevin Rudd, but nasty loopholes remain as WorkChoices winds back.

The Rudd Government’s Workplace Transition Bill may have passed into law but elements of WorkChoices still remain, meaning that some nurses employed at private workplaces are still not secure in their jobs.

Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said one of the ugliest features of WorkChoices was the Transmission of Business rules, which mean that one year after a business changes hands the awards or agreements cease to apply. ‘From that time the only legally enforceable conditions are the five minimum standards in the Act,’ she said.

It’s a nasty loophole that won’t be changed until the bulk of the WorkChoices laws are removed on 1 January 2010. It means that nurses working in facilities that have been sold are left with no legal safety net if their employer decides it wants to cut their conditions back to the minimum. Aged care industry workers are very much exposed to this part of the law because there is so much restructuring of the industry going on. For example, large companies like Principal, Riviera and Conform have sites that have changed hands in 2007 and 2008.

‘With aged care companies regularly changing hands, more and more members will be faced with this issue and we’ll be looking to the government to address this. There is a real need for some mechanism to bring employers to the bargaining table without having to resort to industrial action.’

Meanwhile, the government’s to-do list is also growing, starting with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission’s onerous task of reviewing 4300 federal awards in time for the 2010 commencement of Labor’s new Fair Work Australia commission – judicially-empowered IR body designed to replace the plethora of current bodies including the AIRC, WorkChoices agencies, the Fair Pay Commission, the Workplace Authority, the Workplace Ombudsman and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The besieged Workplace Authority is currently swamped by a backlog of 138,000 AWAs requiring the scrutiny of its now infamous fairness test.

The government has also issued a discussion paper prior to drafting 10 new minimum employment standards and has commenced consultation with unions and business groups on how to provide unfair dismissal protection for workers in workplaces with less than 100 employees.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the passing of the bill was an historic day in the campaign to restore workers’ rights, describing the ill-fated AWAs as a Liberal-National means to attack workers’ rights and drive down pay and conditions.

‘A recent Senate Report confirmed that thousands of Australian workers lost pay and conditions under WorkChoices’ AWAs through the loss of public holiday pay, annual leave loading, shift allowances, overtime pay, penalty rates, redundancy pay and other conditions,’ said Ms Burrow.

‘Unions now call on employers to respect the will of the Australian people and allow workers to get off a lower paid or substandard WorkChoices AWA and go onto a union collective agreement that properly protects their wages, conditions and rights.’