Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The $585,000 a day advertising campaign that is wrong.

No Australian Workplace Agreements have been tested against the government’s new fairness test, despite an assurance from the Prime Minister that all agreements lodged over the last three weeks would be.

In announcing the new heavily-advertised workplace reforms on May 4 Mr Howard said that all AWAs lodged after midnight on Sunday May 7 would face “a fairness test” to be administered by the Australian Workplace Authority.

Last week’s Workplace advertising campaign repeated the assurance claiming that the Workplace Authority would “check agreements against a Fairness Test to make sure you get a fair deal”.

Appearing before a Senate estimates committee yesterday the head of the Authority Peter McIlwain, said 20,866 AWAs had been lodged with his office since May 7, when the fairness test was to apply.

Asked by Labor Senator George Campbell how many resources he had expended since then implementing the test he replied: “None”...

Asked how many staff had been involved in implementing the fairness test Mr McIlwain replied: “Conducting the fairness test? None.”

Senator Campbell then asked whether any fairness testing had been done at all. Mr McIlwain replied: “No.”

Asked whether he had been directed by the Workplace Department or the Minister or the Prime Minister or the Minister’s office to conduct fairness testing from May 7 he replied: “No. The fairness test cannot be conducted until the legislation has been passed”.

The legislation was introduced into parliament late yesterday with the intention that it be made retrospective to May 7.

Mr McIlwain said in the meantime the Authority had installed an “intrusive popup” on its website that compelled a visitor to view and read and click to remove a fact sheet about the government’s proposed fairness test.

As well it had begun offering to provide employers and employees with “pre-lodgment advice” about whether an agreement was likely to pass the proposed test. It has yet to issue the advice.

“However, this is categorically not the fairness test as the fairness test has not yet been passed by the Australian parliament,” Mr McIlwain said.

In introducing the government’s Workplace Relations Amendment Stronger Safety Net bill yesterday the Minister Mr Hockey said its protections would not apply to workers who signed new AWAs between the introduction of WorkChoices on March 27 last year and the introduction of the fairness test. "We can only go forward," he told reporters.

Asked if it was tough luck for those who missed out, Mr Hockey said: "That's why we have introduced the fairness test".

The fairness test is essentially a reintroduction of the previous No Disadvantage test scrapped by WorkChoices that ensured that no agreement could cut a worker’s pay and conditions beneath that of the award. In its new guise it will apply only to workers earning a base salary of less than $75,000, some 90 per cent of employees.

"The fairness test will guarantee employees fair compensation in lieu of conditions such as penalty rates and overtime and shift loadings. With this bill, workers must be paid more, not less," Mr Hockey said in introducing the bill.

“It was never the intention that it may become the norm for protected award conditions such as penalty rates to be traded off without proper compensation.”

The Minister said that a meal provided by an employer to an employee who is regularly required to work overtime would not constitute adequate compensation for the loss of penalty rates.

“This means that, contrary to misleading claims that have been made, a slice of pizza will not constitute non-monetary compensation,” he said.