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. “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.