Australia: Award Modernisation Process Begins

Last Updated: 1 May 2008
Article by Andrew Cunningham

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) issued a Statement on 29 April 2008, laying down a proposed timeline for the AIRC's award modernisation process. The AIRC's Statement also identifies 19 priority industries, in relation to which it is proposed that the award modernisation process will be completed before Christmas 2008.

The award modernisation process, which is described in our HR & IR Updates dated 14 February 2008 and 20 March 2008, is to be performed by the AIRC. It involves modernising more than 2,400 awards, in 106 industries, before 1 January 2010.

Enterprise awards are excluded from the award modernisation process. To confirm whether your award has been identified as an enterprise award, see the AIRC's list of industries and awards.

The draft timeline set by the AIRC, for 2008, is as follows:

Draft timeline

29 April 2008

AIRC President's initial Statement on Award Modernisation

26-27 May 2008

AIRC Full Bench sits for consultation in Melbourne

28 May 2008

AIRC Full Bench sits for consultation in Sydney

29 May 2008

Members of the AIRC Full Bench sit in Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra for consultation

30 May 2008

Members of AIRC Full Bench sit in Perth and Hobart and by video link in Darwin for consultation

6 June 2008

Closing date for written submissions and suggestions to the AIRC

20 June 2008

Publication by the AIRC of priority list of industries/occupations, model award flexibility clause and timetable for completion, including dates for consultation for each priority industry/occupation

6 August 2008

Final date for pre-drafting consultation in each priority industry/occupation

5 September 2008

Final date for publication of draft priority modern awards

3 October 2008

Final date for written submissions and suggestions concerning draft priority modern awards (email and post)

12 December 2008

Final date for making of priority modern awards

Implications for Employers

  • Award modernisation might result in a form of common rule awards' in some industries. Employers that were previously award free might become bound by modern awards as a result of the award modernisation process. While these modern awards will not come into effect until 1 January 2010, decisions will be made in relation to the priority industries in the next eight months.
  • Employers in the priority industries identified by the AIRC would be well advised to become involved in, or at least informed about, the award modernisation process.

In 2009, all awards other than the priority industry awards (and enterprise awards) will be modernised by the AIRC.

As can be seen from the AIRC's draft timeline, the identification of priority industries is an important matter. Awards in the priority industries will be the first to be modernised by the AIRC, and will probably set a precedent for all awards to be modernised in 2009.

While the following list is subject to change, at this stage the AIRC has identified the following as priority industries:

  • Aged Care Industry (excluding nursing)
  • Clerical Occupation (with appropriate exclusions)
  • Coal Industry
  • Electrical Occupation (other than electricians covered by relevant industry awards)
  • Gardening and Sportsground Maintenance Industry
  • Graphic Arts Industry
  • Higher Education Industry
  • Hospitality Industry
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Industry
  • Insurance Industry
  • Metal Engineering and Associated Industries
  • Nursing Occupation
  • Poultry Processing Industry
  • Racing Industry
  • Rail Industry
  • Retail Industry
  • Rubber, Plastic and Cablemaking Industry
  • Technical Services Engineers and Scientists Occupations (with appropriate exclusions)
  • Textile, Clothing and Footwear Industry

Employers in the priority industries, whether or not they are currently bound by an award, would be well advised to keep at least a watching brief on the award modernisation process. Your interests, and the terms and conditions of your employees' employment, might be directly affected by the award modernisation process.

If you would like information or advice in relation to a specific industry award, please let us know.

Another matter dealt with in the AIRC's Statement is award flexibility. As part of award modernisation, the AIRC will draft an award flexibility clause to be included in every modern award, to enable an employer and an individual employee to agree on arrangements to meet the genuine individual needs of the employer and the employee'. The AIRC is currently considering draft award flexibility clauses proposed by employee and employer groups. The appropriate form of the award flexibility clause will be subject to consultation and written submissions, and is to be finalised by 20 June 2008.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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