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Workplace agreement making moving ahead.

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30 October 1998





Data on the first 20 months of agreement making under the Coa lition’s Workplace Relations Act 1996 (WRA) reveals that workplace agreements are becoming a mainstream feature of Australian workplace relations.


Under the WRA two broad types of formal agreements are recognised — collective (certified) agreements with groups of employees (CA’s), or Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA’s) with individual employees.


If the current rate of growth continues over the next 20 months, by the year 2000 almost 100,000 Australians will be benefiting from individual AWA’s - as well as more than one million workers under collective agreements, and the many thousands under State agreements.


The extent of formal agreement making is highlighted in three reports I have tabled today in the Senate Tables Office - a 1997 report on Agreement-making under the WRA, a January to June 1998 update on collective agreement making and the 1997-98 annual report of the Office of the Employment Advocate.


These reports indicate that the pace of agreement making is accelerating as each month of operation of the WRA passes. Indeed data on both CA’s and AWA’s recorded in the 1997 report has already been outdated by the acceleration of agreement making in the 10 months of 1998. In addition, thousands of employers and employees have their own legal agreements outside the framework of statutory agreements.


The results reinforce the Coalition’s determination, outlined in our election policy, More Jobs, Better Pay to further improve access to workplace agreements, and streamline the approval process.


Based on the most recent data on agreement making:


* 5,090 collective agreements covering 732,000 employees were certified in 1997 while a further 2,522 covering 386,300 employers were certified in the first 6 months of 1998;


* 4,393 AWA’s were approved by Decem ber 1997 while by September 1998 34,426 AWA’s had been approved.


The Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA), which approves AWA’s, is now receiving around 4,000 new AWA’s each month.


The latest data on AWA’s provided by the OEA reveals that:


* an incre asing number of women are using AWA’s (by June 1998 40.4% of AWA’s were made with women, compared to 31.1% in 1997);

* AWA’s are addressing an increasingly wide range of employment matters (eg. cashing out overtime and penalty rates, introducing performance and productivity payments, cashing out leave entitlements and providing leave entitlements for working parents with families);

* AWA’s are being used in the public sector, not just the private sector (2,300 AWA’s apply in the Australian public sector);

* Increasingly part time workers are accessing AWA’s (by June 1998 13.5% of AWA’s were for less than 35 hours per week, compared to 9.8% in 1997);

* The OEA is now meeting best practice standards for AWA approval (in the past 4 months over 80% of AWA’s approved have been finalised within 20 working days).


The Coalition policies of giving workers the choice to link productivity and flexibility to wages and conditions has been mutually beneficial to employees and the business in which they work:


- workers ma king agreements are receiving wage increases substantially higher than increases in the cost of living — and higher wage increases than workers remaining on minimum awards; and

- workplace agreement making is strengthening jobs and employee participation in co-operative workplaces.


It is also no coincidence that workplace agreement making is increasing at the same time that industrial disputes in Australia are decreasing.


Today’s reports have commenced the process of examining the impact of agreement maki ng on those parts of the workforce regarded by critics as vulnerable to agreement making — women, migrant workers and young people.


Although the data in these areas is very preliminary (especially, as the reports note, the 1997 data) the reports show clear signs that agreement making has not compromised equity for workers in these categories.


These reports show just how important it is for the Coalition to pursue further workplace relations reform on the foundation of the 1996 WRA.


Labor promised to abolish all AWA’s and to abolish the Office of the Employment Advocate. It still holds to that policy. These reports underline just how wrong Labor would have been to deny workers access to agreement making choices — especially the 35,000 workers under AWA’s approved by the OEA.


For further information: Janette Davis 0419 421 542