Small biz agreement heralds start of Labor IR changes

A small business has 15 full-time equivalent workers, Government agrees, allowing changes through Senate

A small business has 15 full-time equivalent workers, the Federal Government has agreed, allowing it to push through its workplace relations changes.

The Senate finally passed Labor's Fair Work Bill after Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard won last-minute support from the Greens and independents last Friday.

Fielding and Xenophon were previously adamant on increasing the classification of the small business threshold from 15 to 20 employees, and therefore exempting those businesses from unfair dismissal laws.

Under the phased-in compromise, from 2011 the figure will become a headcount of 15 employees, not full-time equivalent.

"We are prepared to move from 20 to 15 full-time workers if the Government is willing to accept that this should be on the basis of full-time equivalent, not head count," Fielding told parliament.

A transition bill was introduced to parliament to enact the Fair Work Australia framework, which annuls the current Workplace Relations Act (WRA) 1996 except schedule 1 (which deals with registered organisations) and schedule 10 (which deals with transitional registered associations).

General protections, unfair dismissal, right of entry and stand down frameworks will be the first legislation to be enacted from July 1.

From January 1, 2010 the provisions in relation to the National Employment Standards (NES) and modern awards will commence.

It states the minimum conditions of employment in the NES and minimum rate of pay contained in the modern award will prevail over existing regulations.

These agreements, along with Individual Transitional Employment Agreements (ITEAs) made before December 31, will be known as ‘transitional instruments’.

The Australian Fair Pay Commission, Workplace Authority, and Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Australian Industrial Registry will cease to exist on July 31, January 31, 2010 and December 31 respectively.

In addition, the fair work ombudsman will take over the functions of the workplace ombudsman and workplace authority from July 1.

Under the FWB, Fair Work Australia is empowered to make ‘take-home pay orders’ for individuals or groups when their pay has been reduced as a result of moving onto modern awards.

Bargaining, agreement-making and industrial action between July 1 and January 1, 2010 are also set out in the framework of the Bill.

Under the WRA provisions bargaining will no longer be allowed after the commencement of this period, and a new bargaining process under the FWB will have to be commenced.

Gillard says a further transitional bill will be introduced in the week beginning May 25. It will address any consequential amendments to over 70 pieces of legislation and any amendments from industrial relations powers.

Employers are urged to review the agreements in place with their employees before July 1 and advice should be sought if uncertainty arises.

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