Is an enterprise agreement right for your business?

It is now over 25 years since enterprise bargaining became an option in the Australian industrial relations system, first introduced via the Prices and Incomes Accord between first the Hawke and then the Keating Governments and the ACTU.

Unfortunately, over the years, unions and employers with unionised workplaces have dominated the enterprise bargaining space and there are few examples of genuine change delivering benefits for both employers and their people. They have really been just about negotiation of over award pay and conditions.

That is why many corporates are stepping away from enterprise agreements now – they don’t see them as offering productivity and flexibility benefits, notwithstanding the fact that they don’t see modern awards as positive alternatives either.

So why would any employer want to have an enterprise agreement today?

Ridgeline HR Practice Leader, Peter Maguire, who has been involved in enterprise bargaining since the early 1990s, offers some options for you to consider:

  1. “The first enterprise agreement that I negotiated was nominally about pay and conditions but what it was really about for me was enshrining a requirement that any matter requiring a vote by employees had to be by secret ballot. Why? Because the women who made up most of the workforce were intimidated by a small group of males backed by male hierarchy in the union and the blokes would hold sway if the vote was just by a show of hands. The union said the agreement wouldn’t get up – the secret ballot delivered an 87% approval by employees. We gave the women their voice and they backed us and that was a significant cultural change for them and the business.”
  2. “25 years ago, I participated in the process that developed the so called skills based classification structures that grace our modern awards today. The reality is that those structures were primarily the product of  industrial relations negotiations so they were mostly flawed from the outset. The world of work has also changed dramatically since then and it should be no surprise that they are not a great fit with the skill sets and talent hierarchies that exist in lots of businesses today. So, if your business is paying your people significantly above award, why wouldn’t you put in place the classification and pay structure that makes sense for your business and your people in today’s world.”
  3. “There are some award provisions that are just wrong. For example, the Building and Construction General On-site Award has an Industry Specific Redundancy Provision that gives employees who leave after their first year ‘other than for reasons of misconduct or refusal of duty’ a redundancy payment of up to 8 weeks’ pay. In the civil construction industry that means that a Plant Operator or Labourer or Traffic Controller would receive that benefit if they resign or are sacked on other grounds eg performance grounds. Other staff in civil construction such as engineers, administrative people, truck drivers etc don’t get those benefits. That is just not right or fair and can be addressed by including the National Employment Standard on redundancy for all employees regardless of business size and employee occupation.”
  4.  “The pay structures in some awards are extremely complex with a combination of base rates, allowances, penalty rates and loadings and, in some cases, specific clauses on annualisation of salaries all of which can be hard for small business owners to get their heads around. An enterprise agreement can help to make that all a lot simpler by redefining how all of that works in simple and easily understood terms and in the context of normal business operations. For example, you might typically work a 40  hour or 45 hour or 50 hour week and would like to be able to just pay a flat rate or an annual salary for doing that. That can be done in an enterprise agreement by striking flat rates that factor in all of monetary award rates, loadings and allowances with a caveat that, if you go outside the prescribed arrangement, there are extras that come into play and they are defined in the agreement as the exception rather than the rule. This ensures that your people are still better off overall and you know just what you need to do to safeguard that outcome and stay compliant.” 
  5. “Principals in supply chains and head contractors on major projects like to be assured that they will not be subject to operational disruptions caused by protected industrial action. That assurance can come from the delivery partners or sub-contractors having their own current enterprise agreements and this provides a resultant advantage when your business is bidding competitively for work.”
  6. “Some award provisions are just wrong. An example of this is the Industry Specific Redundancy Scheme” in the Building and Construction General On-site Award 2010. This provides that ‘redundancy means a situation where an employee ceases to be employed by an employer to whom this award applies, other than for reasons of misconduct or refusal of duty.’ This means that an employee covered by this Award such as plant operators, labourers and traffic controllers in the civil construction industry with at least 12 months’ service is entitled to a redundancy payment of up to 8 weeks if they leave in any other way eg by resignation or dismissal on other grounds such as unsatisfactory work performance, etc. Notably, other employees in the industry such as drivers, engineers and administrative staff do not enjoy that benefit so the arrangement is both unreasonable and unfair. This can be addressed in an enterprise agreement by extending the National Employment Standard on redundancy to all employees regardless of their occupation or the size of the business.”
  7. “Enterprise agreements sit in the public domain on the Fair Work Commission’s website and so serve as both a demonstration of your business’s compliance with workplace laws and your value proposition as an employer. This sends positive messages to both the labour market and the regulator. ” 

So perhaps there are some benefits to having an enterprise agreement after all.

If you would like to explore the opportunities that enterprise agreements offer, give us a call.


Lessons from the 2017 Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit

I recently attended the Corporate Health and Wellbeing Summit in Sydney and thought that I would share some of the key learnings from what were a great set of presentations.

I have selected three – one from a regulator’s perspective, one from a manager’s perspective and one from a consulting psychologist.

Lucinda Brogden, Commissioner,

National Mental Health Commission

 Lucy presented some startling statistics on mental health and its impact on productivity such as:

  • About 1 million Australians live with depression and about 2 million live with anxiety
  • 8 Australians (of whom 5 are men) die of suicide every day
  • Mental health conditions cost Australian businesses $10.9 billion per year
    • Compensation claims: $145.9 million
    • Absenteeism: $4.7 billion
    • Presenteeism: $6.1 billion

She recommended 6 ways in which businesses can improve mental health in the workplace:

  1. Smarter work design
  2. Promoting and facilitating early help seeking and early intervention
  3. Building a positive and safe work culture
  4. Enhancing personal and organisational resilience
  5. Supporting recovery
  6. Increasing awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma.

Stephen Scheeler, Former CEO, Facebook ANZ

Stephen spoke about the challenges he had joining the organisation in his 40s when the average age of Facebook employees is 26. He said he had been there about a week when the HR Manager gave him some feedback “You need to smile more, don’t look so serious”.

He also spoke about the importance of being positive in line with the values of the organisation which was going through massive change e.g.:

  • Revenue of $1.58b in 2012 to $27.6b in 2016
  • Facebook users from 0.9b in 2012 to 2.0b in 2016

Steve cited this comment by Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg as a real indicator of their attitude to their people:

“Bring your whole self to work. I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time. It is all professional and it is all personal.” 

Dr Aaron Jarden, Psychologist, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute

 Aaron described his goals as follows:

“Within an organisational setting, it’s to enable organisations to invest in creating more rewarding, happier jobs for their people. To create positive workplaces where people are able to do meaningful and enjoyable work that taps into their greatest strengths and their most important goals. To capitalise on the unique intellectual and personal strengths of each employee by focusing less on getting employees to do their work and fixing problems and more into promoting excellence by enabling them to do good work; their best work.

He advocates that one size does not fit all and workplaces should be looking to utilise peoples’ strengths to optimise engagement, job satisfaction and productivity.

Aaron introduced the audience to a free strengths survey tool (VIA Survey of Character Strengths which can be accessed at as a way for people to identify their key strengths.

I recently participated in an exercise using this survey tool in a committee of volunteers and found it to be very useful in identifying my key strengths, comparing mine to those of others on the Committee and looking at how we can best deploy each others’ key strengths to get optimal results.

Aaron emphasised that positive leadership is crucial – “Leadership involvement was cited as the most effective factor for a successful wellbeing program by 59 percent of employer respondents. (State of Workplace Wellbeing Survey).”

In 2018, Ridgeline HR will be launching a Better Workplaces Project which will utilize positive psychology principles and a strengths-based approach to achieving improvements in employee wellbeing, engagement and productivity.

Contact Peter Maguire on 0438 533 311 or email if you would like more information.

Changing gears for a winning culture

There is plenty of research out there that tells us that the 1900’s command and control approach to management just doesn’t work in the modern world where change is constant and people want answers and results now.

If we are going to get true employee engagement and high performance with today’s and future generations, we need to fundamentally change the management model to one based on leadership and values-based behaviours that deliver trust and inspiration rather than just process control and risk management which really only deliver compliance. This is what study after study tells us.

It means business leaders need to change gears and in doing so reimagine their business culture and language from:

  • human resources to human beings
  • risk control to trust
  • process control to relationship optimisation
  • management to leadership
  • tasks to behaviours
  • outputs to outcomes
  • compliance to engagement
  • command to inspiration
  • structure to flexibility
  • reactive to resilient

It is a big adjustment and it is easy to fall back into the traditional management norm that has been drummed into us for all those years.

That is why it is so important to have a clear vision about where you are going and clear values and behaviours that say how you are going to go about doing that and then holding everyone accountable for modelling those every day, most importantly yourself.

Be prepared to challenge and be challenged, listen to what your people have to say and learn from that. It is amazing what a difference it can make to performance, engagement, innovation and wellbeing.

Ready to change gears?


What might the new casual conversion provisions mean for business?

As part of the 4 yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission has decided to insert casual conversion provisions into the 85 modern awards that currently do not have provisions of this sort.

These provide a right for casual employees engaged on a regular and systematic basis to apply for conversion to full-time or part-time employment subject to a number of conditions as follows:

  • a qualifying period of 12 calendar months;
  • a qualifying criterion that the casual employee has over the qualifying period worked a pattern of hours on an ongoing basis which, without significant adjustment, could continue to be performed in accordance with the full-time or part-time employment provisions of the relevant award;
  • the employer must provide all casual employees (whether they become eligible for conversion or not) with a copy of the casual conversion clause within the first 12 months after their initial engagement; and
  • a conversion may be refused on the grounds that:
    • it would require a significant adjustment to the casual employee’s hours of work to accommodate them in full-time or part-time employment in accordance with the terms of the applicable modern
      award, or
    • it is known or reasonably foreseeable that the casual employee’s position will cease to exist, or
    • the employee’s hours of work will significantly change or be reduced within the next 12 months, or
    • on other reasonable grounds based on facts which are known or reasonably foreseeable.

Please note that, at this point in time, awards have not been varied and the decision is therefore not operational.

Where this decision differs from  casual conversion provisions that are already in other modern awards is that:

  • the qualifying period is commonly 6 months rather than the 12 month period stated in the new decision
  • the relevant awards have a statement that an employer “must not unreasonably refuse” a request for conversion but there is no reference to the sorts of circumstances that might reasonably justify refusal (as set out in the new decision)
  • there are some variances in procedural requirements between the old and the new
  • existing casual conversion provisions continue to have force.

So what does it all mean?

Regardless of the industry you are in, every employer who has casual employees working regular and systematic hours over a prolonged period of time should review those arrangements and consider whether the past/existing working pattern and foreseeable future working pattern would justify conversion to full-time or part-time employment.

There is also a concern that, while an employee in a small business (less than 15 employees) is not eligible to make a claim of unfair dismissal until they have completed 12 months service (or 6 months in the case of larger businesses), there could be a spike in General Protection/Adverse Action claims where an employee exercises or intends to exercise their right to request casual conversion and perceives that they are disadvantaged because of that request or intention (eg in reduction of hours, variation of shifts to interrupt a regular working pattern or even discontinuation of employment). There is no qualifying period for these types of claims so employers beware.

The final point that we wish to make here is that security of employment is a significant issue in our community today and that is a key factor in attracting and retaining good people who’ll do a good job for you. If you want a great business, trust them and give them that security.

Fair Work changes from 1 July 2017

There are a number of changes that have come into being from 1 July 2017 as a result of the 2016-2017 Annual Wage Review which increased the National Minimum Wage and award rates by 3.3% and other decisions made by the Fair Work Commission.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has produced an up to date set of Pay Guides for all modern awards which can be accessed here.

These guides have also factored in the first phase of reductions in penalty rates that have occurred in a number of retail and hospitality industry awards but please note that unions have appealed that decision and these proceedings commenced in the Federal Court this week.

Additionally, the following flow on increases have occurred.

The High Income Threshold

The new High Income Threshold is $142,000 per annum.

Employees who accept an employer guarantee of annual earnings of greater than this amount do not have access to the unfair dismissal jurisdiction.

This also raises the maximum compensation that can be awarded in an unfair dismissal case to $71,000 (6 months’ wages).

Fair Work Information Statement

Under National Employment Standards, all new employees must be provided with a Fair Work Information Statement which explains a range of workplace rights and where to go for assistance with those.

This has been updated and the new version that must be provided to new employees from 1 July 2017 can be accessed below.

Fair-Work-Information-Statement – 010717

Penalties for Fair Work Breaches

The maximum penalties for breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 and modern awards have been increased to:

  • For corporate entities, $63,000 per offence
  • For individuals, $12,600 per offence

It should be noted that, in legislation currently before the Parliament (which is now in recess), these penalties are targeted to increase tenfold.


Ridgeline HR educating young people on workplace rights

This morning, we ran the first of our “Your Workplace Rights” briefings for secondary students and first up were Year 10 students at Melba College about to go out on work experience.

The briefing covered pay and conditions, National Employment Standards, Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements and the roles of the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman. The presentation included links to online information resources, tools and calculators that anyone can use to be better informed about their rights, entitlements and obligations.

This pro bono service has been launched for all Maroondah secondary schools as part of our contribution to improving community wellbeing in the City of Maroondah.

Penalty rates decision to be phased in

The Fair Work Commission has announced transitional arrangements for implementing the recent decisions to reduce penalty rates for work on Sundays and Public Holidays across a variety of awards.

Sunday penalty rates

The reductions in Sunday penalty rates are being phased in in annual instalments over 3 to 4 years depending on the award and are timed to occur on 1 July at the same time as any increases in award wages occurring from the Annual Wage Review process. The schedule for each award is as follows.

Fast Food Industry Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees – Level 1 only

1 July 2017: 150 per cent > 145 per cent

1 July 2018: 145 per cent >135 per cent

1 July 2019: 135 per cent >125 per cent

Casual employees (inclusive of casual loading) – Level 1 only

1 July 2017: 175 per cent > 170 per cent

1 July 2018: 170 per cent > 160 per cent

1 July 2019: 160 per cent > 150 per cent

Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees

1 July 2017: 175 per cent > 170 per cent

1 July 2018: 170 per cent > 160 per cent

1 July 2019: 160 per cent > 150 per cent

Casual employees – unchanged at 175% including casual loading

General Retail Industry Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees

1 July 2017: 200 per cent > 195 per cent

1 July 2018: 195 per cent > 180 per cent

1 July 2019: 180 per cent > 165 per cent

1 July 2020: 165 per cent > 150 per cent

Casual employees (inclusive of casual loading)

1 July 2017: 200 per cent > 195 per cent

1 July 2018: 195 per cent > 185 per cent

1 July 2019: 185 per cent > 175 per cent

Pharmacy Industry Award 2010

Full-time and part-time employees

1 July 2017: 200 per cent > 195 per cent

1 July 2018: 195 per cent > 180 per cent

1 July 2019: 180 per cent > 165 per cent

1 July 2020: 165 per cent > 150 per cent

Casual employees (inclusive of casual loading)

1 July 2017: 225 per cent > 220 per cent

1 July 2018: 220 per cent > 205 per cent

1 July 2019: 205 per cent > 190 per cent

1 July 2020: 190 per cent > 175 per cent

Public Holiday penalty rates

This decision effects the above 4 awards plus the Restaurant Industry Award 2010.

In all of these awards , the penalty rate for work on a public holiday is changed with effected from 1 July 2017 to

Full-time/part-time:  225%

Casual:  250%

One of the reasons given for phasing in the Sunday penalty rate cuts over such a prolonged period was that “take home pay” orders would not be an available option for workers whose take home pay was reduced as a result of implementation of this decision. The FWC’s rationale is that annual wage increases will significantly, if not totally, offset reductions in penalty rates.

This is likely to be a factor in future Annual Wage Reviews.

It is understood that some unions may seek judicial review of the penalty rates decision and, should that occur, it is possible that implementation could be further delayed.


Fair Work Commission hands down 3.3% wage increase

The Fair Work Commission today issued its decision in the 2016-2017 Annual Wage Review.

As we predicted, the decision came in at 3.3% (about midway in our predicted range of 3 – 3.5%).

That takes the Federal Minimum Wage to $694.90 per week, or $18.29 per hour with effect from 1 July 2017.

This constitutes an increase of $22.20 per week to the weekly rate or 59 cents per hour to the hourly rate based on a 38 hour week.

The increase will also apply to modern award rates effective from 1 July 2017.

In the decision summary, the Panel stated: “In previous Reviews, the Panel has accepted that if the low paid are forced to live in poverty then their needs are not being met and that those in full-time employment can reasonably expect a standard of living that exceeds poverty levels. While we have not departed from that position, we acknowledge that the increase we propose to award will not lift all award-reliant employees out of poverty, particularly those households with dependent children and a single-wage earner. However, to grant an increase to the NMW and award minimum rates of the size necessary to immediately lift all full-time workers out of poverty, or an increase of the size proposed by some parties, is likely to have adverse employment effects on those groups who are already marginalised in the labour market, with a corresponding impact on the vulnerability of households to poverty due to loss of employment or hours.

The level of increase we have decided upon will not lead to inflationary pressure and is highly unlikely to have any measurable negative impact on employment. It will, however, mean an improvement in the real wages for those employees who are reliant on the NMW and modern award minimum wages and an improvement in their relative living standards.”

Employers need to review employees’ wages to ensure that they continue to receive at least what they would be entitled to under the relevant award.

Those who have enterprise agreements in place need to check whether the agreement provides for passing on of the Annual Wage Review decision or whether they need to adjust wages because wages provided for under the Award will fall below the new award rates from 1 July 2017.


New bill set to raise Fair Work penalties by 900%

The federal government recently presented the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 to parliament and it is expected to pass into legislation with bipartisan support.

This bill has far reaching consequences with the proposed changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 including:

  • Introducing a higher scale of penalties for ‘serious contraventions’ of prescribed workplace laws up from $54,000 to $540,000 per offence for a corporation and from $10,800 to $108,000 per offence for an individual
  • Increasing penalties for record-keeping failures.
  • Making franchisors and holding companies responsible for underpayments by their franchisees or subsidiaries where they knew or ought reasonably to have known of the contraventions and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent them.
  • Expressly prohibiting employers from unreasonably requiring their employees to make payments (e.g. demanding a proportion of their wages be paid back in cash).
  • Strengthening the evidence-gathering powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure that the exploitation of vulnerable workers can be effectively investigated.

Particular attention is also being given to exploitation of migrant workers so businesses need to ensure that visas are in order and any work limitations are complied with.

Ridgeline HR offers a range of services to support businesses in getting compliance right and minimising risks internally and across franchise groups and supply chains.

Fair Work Ombudsman’s new “Record My Hours” App

The Fair Work Ombudsman has released a new “Record My Hours” app to enable workers to automatically record their hours of work using geofencing technology.

In essence, what happens is the worker enters the location of their workplace and the app will automatically track and record the hours that they spend in that location.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has done this to tackle a problem that they commonly encounter in investigating underpayment of wages complaints and that is the employer’s failure to maintain or produce adequate or accurate records.

Between 1 July 2016 and 31 December 2016:

  • 64% of the court cases initiated by the Fair Work Ombudsman involved an element of alleged record keeping or payslip violations and
  • 347 infringement notices with on the spot fines ranging from $540 to $2,700 were issued for record keeping and payslip contraventions.

Employers should ensure that they are doing the right thing with payslips and record-keeping to ensure legal compliance, minimise risks of fines and, of course, because that is all part of looking after your people.

Information on pay slip and record keeping requirements is available here.