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Australian Workplace Agreements - How They Work For You

The employer / employee relations environment has been constantly evolving during the last 25 years. In Australia, as in many western nations, the balance between employers and employees has shifted back and forwards usually in response to supply and demand.

At times worker organisations, such as unions, have caused considerable problems for employers while arguing that unionism protects workers pay and conditions.

While this has been true in some arenas it has also been true that this has come at the expense of enterprise flexibility.

Small business today needs the flexibility to rapidly respond to technological and sociological change and the old award system and its archaic inflexibility have to change.

In the late 80's and 90's there was a shift towards enterprise bargaining agreements and collective agreements which gave an individual enterprise increasing workplace flexibility.

These agreements, at the enterprise level, where parties were normally unions on behalf of workers and small business went some ways in achieving of flexibility but still retained some of the old thinking and inflexible practices. In essence the old award system continued to be a reference point for minimum wages and entitlements for workers.

In 1996 the federal government introduced Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA) which was specifically designed with individual business and worker in mind.

At its fundamental level an AWA is a formal written agreement between an employer and an individual employee. A significant advantage to workers and business is that an AWA can be tailored to cover all particular requirements for your business.

AWAs have a life of 3 years, however if they are carefully written can continue long after the 3 year expiry date.

By way of example you may own a farm where seasonal workers are required. Your AWA can be designed to reflect seasonal requirements that suite both worker and employer.

You employees may want a 4 day working week. Your AWA can tailor this requirement into the agreement and without payment of penalty rates for working in excess of 8 hours per day.

Take Australian Zoo owned by Steve and Terri Irwin. Because of their unique requirements in caring for animals AWA's have provided flexible working times. With a workforce of 450 people they have been able to grow their business in the certainty of wages and conditions.

Other advantages of an AWA may be that an employee is able to cash out sick leave at the end of every year reducing the amount of sick leave taken and providing an added incentive for turning up for work each day. It all adds up to flexibility.

An AWA can override state and federal award provisions, as long as the terms and conditions of the AWA overall do not disadvantage the employee when compared to the award. This gives the employer and employee certainty of conditions in the employment relationship. A business without a written formal agreement between worker and the employer is at risk to claim before industrial tribunals and courts.

Certainly documenting and agreeing on individual workplace wages and conditions means certainty of cost and the ability to be competitive.

Cash, Costs and People are the number one ticket item in many businesses today. For helpful information visit us at www.biz-momentum.com

Philip Lye is the founder of Biz Momentum Pty Ltd providing strategic human resource management to help your business grow.

Prior to starting Biz Momentum Philip was CEO and CFO of two companies. http://www.biz-momentum.com

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