Spotlight ditches ‘confusing’ AWAs

Infamous for its ‘2¢’ AWAs, Spotlight retail chain abandons WorkChoices and plans for a union collective agreement.

The retail chain Spotlight attracted controversy last year when it offered employees AWAs that stripped away penalty rates in return for 2¢ more per hour.

Now the company has denounced the Howard government’s IR laws as ‘bewildering’ after failing the new ‘fairness test’, and has announced plans to abandon hundreds of AWAs in favour of a union collective agreement.

The company’s latest batch of more than 400 AWAs has been rejected by the Workplace Authority under the new Fairness Test, introduced by the government to ensure no workers are worse off under the new system. The test requires that fair compensation be paid to workers who give up award conditions such as penalty rates.

The latest batch of AWAs has failed the fairness test but the company also has more than 1,000 workers on AWAs that predate WorkChoices, and 800 on AWAs introduced under the legislation but not subject to the fairness test.

Spotlight has commenced negotiating a new union collective agreement with its workers and their union, the Australian Workers Union (AWU).

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said Spotlight’s decision to drop AWAs altogether is a strong indictment that the new IR system is confusing and convoluted.

‘Last year when it was revealed that Spotlight was offering workers agreements that provided just 2¢ per hour more in return for giving up penalty rates, John Howard defended the company as “creating jobs for workers”.

‘Now the government’s own fairness test has exposed one of it biggest pin-up companies as offering unfair deals to its workers,’ said Judith.

Chief Executive of Spotlight, Stephen Carter, said the company found the Government’s legislation increasingly confusing.

‘We have tried to embrace the Government’s industrial relations agenda by adopting its framework, but we have been unsuccessful,’ he told ABC radio.

‘We just want to negotiate with the union given the increasing levels of complexity that we face.’

Labour’s industrial relations spokesperson Julia Gillard said the decision to go back to collective bargaining showed that WorkChoices was bad for both employees and employers.

‘Workers can still lose award conditions and not get any compensation and businesses are finding it very difficult to comply with these complex laws,’ she said.

Bill Shorten, National Secretary of the AWU, told The Australian: ‘Spotlight has discovered that the federal government has changed the rules so often that it doesn’t know whether it’s playing soccer, football or rugby.’