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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4933


Senator MURRAY(5.28 p.m.) —I move:

(10)   Schedule 3, item 2, page 8 (after line 14), at the end of section 83BB, add:

(2)   In performing his or her functions, the Employment Advocate must have particular regard to:

   (a)   the needs of workers in a disadvantaged bargaining position (for example: women, people from a non-English speaking background, young people, apprentices, trainees and outworkers); and

   (b)   assisting workers to balance work and family responsibilities; and

   (c)   promoting better work and management practices through Australian workplace agreements.

This amendment seeks to require the Employment Advocate to have particular regard in the appointment to their functions to the needs of workers in a disadvantaged working position such as women, migrants, young people and outworkers; assisting workers to balance their work and family responsibilities; and promoting better work and management practices through Australian workplace agreements.

The approval function follows on from the amendments to schedule No. 11, which will allow the Employment Advocate to approve AWAs where there is no doubt that they fulfil the `no disadvantage' test. This ability to approve clearly above-award agreements will allow a fairly simple administrative procedure to formalise the largely unregulated above-award contracting already going on in most small business workplaces. It will be quite clear that any AWA which looks doubtful will be referred to the AIRC in accordance with a protocol developed by the President of the AIRC with the concurrence of the advocate.

The three considerations that will be added to 83BB place a heavy onus on the Employment Advocate. The importance of these provisions will become apparent as we move through schedule 11—that is why I make reference to them now—particularly in relation to judgments that the advocate has to make about the bargaining process.

The amended bill will contain a wide range of protections of the bargaining process, including a requirement that all AWAs include appropriate provisions on discrimination; the requirement that the AWA is offered to all comparable employees in the same terms as should fairly or reasonably be offered the AWA; the requirement that the employer explain the effect of the AWA to the employee; and, most importantly, the requirement that the employee generally consents to making the AWA.

The considerations will also be important in the development of the information statement, prepared by the Employment Advocate, which all employers will be required to give to employees prior to signing the AWA. The considerations will also be important in the general assistance provided by the Employment Advocate to employees and employers, particularly in relation to representation for breaches. This also relates to proposed 83BB(2)(c), which carries a very pro-active function—the requirement for the advocate to actually promote better work and management practices and to do that through AWAs. That could involve the development of pro forma clauses or agreements, seeking to present ideas to parties in developing an AWA and trying to improve productivity or fairness in the workplace. These are important considerations, and I commend amendment 10 to the Senate.