Unions, including the AEU, have condemned the Morrison government’s move to allow employers to give employees just 24 hours’ notice of proposed changes to industrial agreements. The confected rationale for the new regulation is the supposed impact on businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the Fair Work Act, if an employer wants to vary any of the terms or conditions of an agreement, they must get the permission of the majority of employees covered by the agreement. They must provide clear information about the changes they want to all employees, and those proposals are put to the vote.
Prior to Morrison’s amendments, employers had a minimum seven days to advise employees of an intended variation and provide information before a ballot could be held. Even then, it was barely enough time for unions to provide advice to members.
Now, employers have the benefit of providing just one day’s notice before they can put any variation to the vote. This will make it impossible for unions to inform members about the implications of any change and advise on whether to accept or reject it.
This reform will be in place for the next six months, unless it is extended. However, workers need to understand that if they do vote in favour of a variation this will remain a term of the agreement for the life of the agreement. Once entitlements are lost, it is very difficult to get them back.
Given the financial effects of the coronavirus on many businesses and organisations, it may be reasonable and necessary in limited circumstances to make changes to an agreement that meet employees’ longer-term interests. However, the former seven-day period was hardly a hurdle.
Unions are concerned that some unscrupulous bosses will use this opportunity to ram through a range of changes to agreements that go far beyond managing the impact of COVID-19.
In the current circumstances, workers may feel they have little capacity to reject any changes, for fear of losing their job or other hard-won entitlements.
The AEU is aware that there are some employers, particularly in the disability sector, who may consider using this new arrangement to further undermine our members’ conditions of employment.
AEU members should not tolerate any changes to industrial agreements or working conditions that do not benefit them, no matter the current circumstances. If your employer is seeking to vary the agreement you work under, contact the AEU immediately on (03) 9417 2822.