Business owners arriving back to work after the New Year’s break will be facing a brave new world of industrial relations.
The second leg of changes under the Rudd Government’s Fair Work industrial relations regime came into effect on January 1. These changes include the new National Employment Standards and the Modern Awards system.
The laws can be confusing and apply differently to businesses depending on size and industry.
National Employment Standards
Work Choices provided five minimum entitlements for employees. The new National Employment Standards however, contain 10 provisions:
- Maximum weekly hours of work
- The right to request flexible working arrangements
- Parental leave and related entitlements
- Annual leave
- Personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave
- Community service leave
- Long service leave
- Public holidays
- Notice of termination and redundancy pay
- Provision of a Fair Work Information Statement
Most of the new legislation has been carried over from Work Choices. However, employers need to be aware of changes regarding flexible working arrangements.
Under the new laws, any employee who is a parent, or cares for a pre-school child and has had 12 months continuous employment, can request flexible working arrangements. That is provided that there is a reasonable expectation of continuing regular employment.
Employers that require employees to work reasonable additional hours must take into account the employee’s personal circumstances, the employee’s entitlement to overtime payment, the employee’s role and responsibilities, typical industry working patterns and the notice period given.
In relation to parental leave, employees can now request an additional 12 months parental leave, provided that it is requested at least four weeks before the end of the original leave period. An employer can only refuse that request on ‘reasonable business grounds.’
One of the more challenging aspects of the new rule is the use of the term ‘reasonable grounds.’ The Fair Work legislation says that reasonable grounds include the impact that employees requests will have on the workplace and the ability to re-organise work with existing staff. The new laws mean that this definition is yet to be tested.
Annual leave entitlements have also changed, with four weeks of leave now given to employees. Shift workers become entitled to an additional week of annual leave after the first year of service with their employer.
Notice of termination and redundancy pay has also been updated. Redundancy entitlements are now required by law for any company with 15 employees or more. The same applies for the application of unfair dismissal provisions.
One of the other major changes comes in the form of new ‘Modern Awards.’ Many employees will now come under the new safety net which will provide new minimum conditions.
Many businesses will be unsure whether their employees are covered under certain awards, and whether the standards (which cover employees not covered by another modern award) apply to certain workers.
Employers should carefully consider whether they are actually award free or if one of the new Modern Awards apply. If there is any uncertainty it is advisable that they contact Fair Work Australia.
WEB WATCH – ESSENTIAL SITES FOR BUSINESS OWNERS
For those wanting more information on the new workplace relations system, visit www.fairwork.gov.au which provides information and advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman.