Home' Ausmarine : September 2009 Contents In the fishing industry at present I believe there are few who
have more knowledge about labour award systems than Mark
Cody, Executive Officer of the Primary Industry Skills
Council in South Australia. I had an opportunity to spend
some time with him talking about the system and I came to
the following conclusions.
The casual observer might be forgiven for their ignorance of
modern awards. The whole award modernisation program has not
exactly had a lot of publicity recently and when there has been
any it is usually not positive. I can only assume that most
"working Australians" are blissfully unaware that all industrial
awards are being modernised and rationalised, effectively
rendering state awards redundant and putting nearly all workers
under a smaller number of Federal awards.
What is occurring is clearly the biggest reform of our
industrial relations system for many years, a reform that eclipses
anything that John Howard undertook. The whole issue of
awards and workplace agreements dominated the last election
and handed Kevin Rudd a resounding victory. So it seems timely
that I make some comments, especially as the seafood industry
has been active in trying to preserve our unique industry and
avoid the more draconian industrial systems that have beset
many other industries.
In the headlong rush for fairness in work, the government has
put in place the Fair Work Act 2009 which seeks to create new
conditions that protect workers from exploitation and unfair
dismissal. The new act is a direct rebuttal of what "WorkChoices"
was perceived to be and puts the industrial agenda firmly back
under award structures and union involvement. Although you
have often heard me criticise unions, they have a place in ensuring
balance in how workers are treated but not, in my opinion, a place
in determining how industry works and remains competitive.
What I find odd is that the revolution that has been taking
place in all our workplaces over the last decade or two has been
about flexibility in work to remain competitive and secure our
businesses. Any thinking Australian can clearly see that our work
organisation in 2009 is about real flexibility and real choice for
both employers and employees. If it all goes back to standard
hours and penalties for anything outside these standard hours we
will lose the flexibility we have enjoyed along with the benefits
-- such as having a job.
After all, who works nine-to-five these days, apart from some
public servants? And even these keep telling me they are working
longer hours with more trade offs. So where are we now and what
on earth are these modern awards going to do to us?
Well, first, there are going to be a lot fewer awards than we have
known -- most people will be covered by these mega industry
awards and they will be Federal, not state-based. The state awards
will become largely redundant. There are some basic conditions
(employment standards) in all these modern awards such as
recreation leave, etcetera, and these conditions are not meant to be
bargained away. The concept of national awards may appeal to
national companies by having a set pay rate and conditions across
the country but it can also work against some industries that have
"local" work conditions that meet the needs of all workers.
The big test of modern awards will be their flexibility and
responsiveness. Looking at the early modern awards, I have to
say that all I can see is a return to the past where ordinary hours
are spelt out within a narrow spread of hours and everyone
will be paid penalties. The hospitality sector would have been
wiped out by their draft modern awards because they have a
very high level of causal workers and the Australian Industrial
Relations Commission has set a standard casual loading of 25%
across all industries. Thankfully their strong lobbying has seen a
more reasonable outcome. However, the 25% casual loading is a
worry for our industry too, as the processing and some
aquaculture sectors employ casuals. Imagine what that will do to
the wage bill.
What Workchoices did was try to put in place a more flexible
system that was based around workplace agreements. In the main,
these agreements have delivered good wages for workers and kept
many businesses operating at a time when the global marketplace
has become much more competitive. But the new awards are not
all doom and gloom. The good news is that we will still be able to
have enterprise agreements which vary some of the award
conditions. This means that many of the so called ordinary
(standard) hours can be bargained away in favour of other more
flexible work arrangements that suit both employers and
employees. The difference is that unions have a right to be part of
the process now.
So what have we been doing as a seafood industry? Well, we
have had a small industry team working with the industry and the
Industrial Relations Commission to keep the wild catch fishing
sector award free as it is now and has been since the beginning of
time. Submissions have been lodged and arguments made. The
processing award draft has been included in the food and beverage
and tobacco award! Imagine that, 38 hour weeks and 8am -- 6pm
shifts. Now the discussions are about the aquaculture industry
which as we all know is nearly all award free.
The unions have been busy with the AWU (Australian Workers
Union) proposing a new award to cover the whole industry. What
nonsense! But then the modern award process is about going back
in time to convenient awards that match what the manufacturing
industry does. From where I sit it has nothing to do with fishing
and aquaculture and, to be honest, we have a better model. Maybe
some other industries should look at reward for effort; it might
shake a few people up.
We do need to modernise awards but I'm not sure that the
current direction will achieve anything other than more wage costs
and ultimately unemployment. Mr Rudd may well have to live
with the phrase Kevin '07, Unemployed '09. I suggest the
industrial policy makers look at what working families actually do
in 2009 before they go back in time to 1988 and try to bring
forward their old fashioned ideas.
-- choice or no choice!
A column of personal opinion by one of Australia's leading
fishing industry entrepreneurs. Hagen Stehr AO of Port Lincoln.
September 2009 AUSMARINE
Links Archive August 2009 October 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page