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New national employment standards need careful thought

20 February, 2008

“The draft ten National Employment Standards released recently for public comment needs careful consideration and road-testing the legislation is the right move,” Ai Group Chief Executive Heather Ridout has said.

“Releasing the draft Standards for public comment before introducing legislation into Parliament will be important in identifying any problems with the Standards and dealing with them before the operative date of 1 January 2010.

“There is a big challenge with enshrining minimum employment standards in legislation because they are a “one size fits all” approach.  It should be understood that unlike awards and other industrial instruments, which apply to particular industries or occupations, legislated National Employment Standards apply to all industries and to everyone who works in them, from the manager of the pastry shop to the pastry cook. 

“The Standards, therefore, need to provide for the innate flexibility required to cater for the extremely wide variety of working arrangements within businesses across the Australian economy. The diversity of arrangements continues to change and broaden and they will need to have an eye to the future as well.

“Working arrangements, for example, which suit the IT sector may not suit the manufacturing or construction sectors, and plumbers and senior managers would similarly have very different workplace needs,” Ridout said.

“If the Standards are not sufficiently flexible or appropriate there is the potential for unnecessary costs and regulations to be imposed on business and to create all sorts of administrative difficulties for employees and employers. 

“The interaction between workplace agreements and the Standards needs a lot of thought. The Standards should provide sufficient flexibility for hours of work, leave and other entitlements to be tailored to the needs of particular employees and employers through workplace agreements, otherwise, both parties could be disadvantaged.

“The interrelationship between awards and the National Employment Standards is also very important and could be problematic.  Each of these two key elements of the safety net need to operate in an integrated way and the Standards should not be allowed to have the effect of encouraging unions to pursue award claims for improved entitlements,” Ridout said.

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