Fair Work Commission
Organizations run on different principles and in varying environmental conditions, but one common aspect is that all agencies have employees. The quality of products and services offered by an organization depends on the commitment of employees to perform their roles. Management has to ensure that employees have a comfortable working environment for efficiency to be realized. Since employees are the people who make production and service delivery a reality, their welfare must be prioritized because failure to have considerate terms and conditions means the organization risks losing quality employees and service. It is important to look at how employers treat their employees and the steps that various stakeholders in the labour sector take to sensitize employees of their rights as well as advocating for safe working conditions. Trade unions and workers unions all work with the aim of achieving good labour relations for workers by reinforcing policies that serve the interest of workers. Various groups and commissions have been formed around the world to fight for the rights of workers, one such commission is the Fair Work Commission that is discussed in detail in this paper.
The history of industrial relations in Australia can be traced back to 1904 when the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act was passed leading to the formation of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration that was later known as Australia’s National Workplace Tribunal. This Tribunal has renamed over time as; Workplace Authority, Australian Fair Pay Commission and later as Australian Industrial Relations Commission (Stewart, 2011). Social and economic changes meant there was a need for legislations in labor relations, consequently, the Fair Work Act was passed in 2009 to create a system of regulating industrial ties in Australia. This led to the establishment of Fair Work Australia, an authority whose aim was to look into the welfare of employees to ensure equity and fairness in the workplace (Acton, 2011). In 2012, the Fair Work Amendment Act was passed. As a result, Fair Work Australia was renamed as the Fair Work Commission which is the industrial relations tribunal that implements reforms in labor relations to maintain the regulation of workplace conditions.
The Fair Work Commission has an ‘independent umpire’ that arbitrates conflicts between employers and employees or among employees. They establish the cause of conflict, listen to the conflicting parties and suggest possible solutions avoid further dispute. Through the intervention of the Fair Work Commission, work relationships and ties have been maintained, and the threat of employee resistance with management minimized. As part of its duty to resolve disputes, the Fair Work Commission negotiates on behalf of employees for improvements of incentives to avoid industrial action in the form of strikes, boycotts or go-slows. Productivity and performance are emphasized because the disputes that could have been possible distracters to efficiency at work are minimized (Smith, 2006). Fair Work Commission sets the standards of payment for the various job groups to reduce discrepancies and unfairness in pay. Employees have to be paid what they deserve in line with the work they perform. Standards of pay minimize exploitation of workers by employers who aim at profit making at the expense of the employee's hard work (Wooden, Wilkins & McGuinnes, 2007)
Fair Work Commission helps employers and staff in making enterprise agreements which serve the interest of both parties. Agreements are terms and conditions arrived at in business by the employer and employees after approval by the Fair Work Commission. There are a need for a fair and non-discriminatory manner to give a chance for equal opportunity and treatment in the workplace. Agreements address issues such as the type of employment- whether a worker is a permanent, casual, full-time or part-time job, the hours of work and remuneration of wages and salaries. Employees should have a contract signed to ensure the agreement is official to reduce chances of wrangles in future. Gender equality is another issue of concern at the workplace (Durbin, Page & Walby, 2016 ). The terms of conditions that employees adhere to have to be gender-sensitive. All employees should observe such issues as dressing code without sparing one gender. Similarly, exposure to training and on-job learning should include a representative percentage of gender to avoid empowering only one sex in the organization (Berg, 2016).
Fair Work Commission has a role in developing awards that employees should get while performing their duty at different workplaces. During employment, employees have to be offered benefits in the process serving the organization. All employees in an organization must have equal treatment and the same pay rates. Overtime and allowances, leave entitlements and privilege to undergo training for self-development while at work are standards set by the Fair Work Commission. Employees who are dismissed under wrong or unclear circumstances have the chance to complain to the Fair Work Commission which has the mandate of handling such issues. There are times when senior managers decide to dismiss subordinates by malicious allegations. The Fair Work Commission has helped to instill the sense of discipline required at the workplace (Wright, 2016).
The Fair Work Commission has standards and sets procedures which determine the working conditions of various categories of workers. The Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard provides guidelines on wages, leave and working hours for employees while the Australian Pay and Classification Scale regulates the guidelines for workers who earn above the minimum wage. Policies from the thresh-hold of determining agreements (Oliver, 2016). Negotiations are held to arrive at enterprise agreements between representatives of the employee and trade unions. Employees are often represented by the employer who at the same time is the one who drafts the proposal of the enterprise agreement, a reason why in-depth assessment is required to eliminate bias and ill intention of the employer who might draft that which favors the organization but not the employee ( Jefferson & Preston , 2010).
Agreements are approved if they meet the “Better off overall” Test where employees who are to be covered by the agreement are expected to be better off than they would be under a relevant modern award. This test is a requirement before the agreement under negotiation is approved and dictates that the award covered employee should after implementation of the agreement, be better off than they would be under a relevant modern award (Oliver, 2016). In this case, a measure of satisfaction on employees is done on the basis being better off with the enterprise agreement than if a new award is chosen to replace the proposed enterprise award. By carrying out this test, the issues at hand in the accord are discussed concerning a new award and so adopting change depends on whether the covered employee is left with an added advantage, however small it might be.
The whole process of enterprise agreement begins with a notice employees regarding proposed terms and conditions of work by the employer. Employees are given access to the copy of the agreement to enable them to get ready for change depending on the content of the agreement. The agreement often addresses employment relations, date of expiry in the case of a contract, dispute resolution, wages and allowances and benefits and incentives that the employee is entitled to while working in that organization ( Pahle, 2014). A better off test is done for the Fair Work Commission to be satisfied that employees who are covered by the agreement would be better off than if a relevant modern award covers them. The better off test entails a comparison of the proposed agreement to an appropriate modern award, and the agreement is approved if it is deemed good enough to change the existing terms and conditions for the benefit of the employee. Good faith bargaining from the representatives in the negotiations should be embraced for fruitful discussions on the enterprise agreement.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Agreement Approval Process
A major strength of the agreement approval process is that there is room for participation of trade unions or the Fair Work Commission who do negotiations on behalf of the workers and advocate for the welfare of workers to re prioritised in the agreement. It is also procedural because it is done with the knowledge of the employees who will serve under the conditions in the agreement ( Moriarty, 2009). Through the better off test, all employees are covered uniformly because the level of impact affects those in the same workplace which minimizes disparities in an organization (Pahle, 2014). Despite these strengths, the process of approving agreements also has its shortcomings. First, employees are often represented by the employer, but it is the employer who proposes the agreement that will be adopted. Such opportunities to the employer gives room for unfairness in whatever is deliberated on in the terms and conditions, and so the employee could easily be exploited. Trade unions and the Fair Work Commission might not be able to tell what the covered employees in an organization want in the agreement (Cooney, 2006).
The Fair Work Commission should consider making changes to the Better off Overall Test because of the challenges that it exposes employees. Comparing the enterprise agreement to the existing relevant modern awards is not a measure to stick to because some of the relevant modern awards used do not reflect on the situation of the employees who will serve under the agreement. It is not easy to correctly identify a relevant award and link it to the expectations of the employees whose agreement is at stake. Instead of solving a problem for the employees, the test introduces dissatisfaction and more complaints (Office & Kyloh, 2008). The test focuses on the general impression of leaving the employee better off as compared to relevant modern awards but ignores the terms of the agreement that are less beneficial to the employee. Terms and conditions at the workplace should be made better by improving the performance and welfare employees. Using a general modern award for all employees might work to the disadvantage of others because one section of the employees might get the benefits they expected from the review of agreements while it might be made worse for others (Goodwin & Maconachie, 2011). Having pointed out this, it is necessary that the better off test is modified into a new order of measuring awards by what percentage of change will realize if the new agreement is implemented. There must be a significant level of change regarding real benefits but not concentrating on the relevant modern awards.
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