Labor proves flexible on 38-hour week
Workers still need to meet company needs, says Rudd
By Patricia Karvelas and Brad Norington
Kevin Rudd has gone out of his way to allay business concerns that companies will face an inflexible 38-hour working week under Labor by recognising the "needs" and "work patterns" of employers.
The Prime Minister revealed how an average 38-hour week would operate under Labor as part of 10 proposed legislated employment standards released yesterday.
Business groups said the package of minimum standards Labor took to the November election had been improved after consultations with the Government.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said employers welcomed the Government’s recognition that — in legislating for an average 38-hour week – workers were often paid a salary that took into account the requirement to work "reasonable additional hours".
The Australian Mines and Metals Association, which had been worried about disruption to shifts at remote mine sites, highlighted Labor’s acceptance of "the usual patterns of work in the industry" in determining reasonable additional hours.
But AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said he remained concerned that non-award employees and managers earning more than $100,000 a year could still be forced into union-style work arrangements as part of averaging weekly hours beyond one week.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson predicted the changes would cost business. But he added: "These will be extensions to the current obligations of employers and will add some additional costs but they are not extreme and are largely what the Government said it would do."
Labor’s 10 employment standards released yesterday provide more detail on a proposed list released last April covering annual leave, sick leave, parental leave, compassionate leave, public holidays, notice of termination and redundancy, long service leave and a fair work information sheet telling workers what their rights are.
They also provide for employees to request more flexible working hours – and the ability to work from home – to take into account family responsibilities.
But employers will retain overall authority in the workplace because of the right to refuse more flexible arrangements on business grounds.
Mr Rudd and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard yesterday also unveiled a new requirement that an employee would need 12 months’ service before having a "right to request" flexible arrangements. Couples will also be entitled to take 12 months of parental leave, sequentially, to care for a child. This will have the effect of allowing up to two years of unpaid leave.
Unions described the proposed standards as an important step towards "plugging the gaps" in workers’ entitlements after they had been reduced under the Howard government’s Work Choices laws.
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the right of working parents to request flexible and part-time work from an employer was important. But he believed the Government could have gone further by putting the onus on employers to give "fair consideration" to employees’ requests.
In parliament yesterday, Mr Rudd refused to guarantee that no worker would be worse off.
"We’re not in the business of those sort of irresponsible guarantees," he said.
"What we can guarantee is a fair and flexible industrial relations system of which the Government is proud."
The Government has removed one key plank of Work Choices by scrapping any further Australian Workplace Agreements.
The 10 minimum standards will be included in a second piece of legislation, to be introduced later this year, which will replace the rest of the Work Choices laws.
Mr Rudd rejected a suggestion the fair work information sheet was just a way for Labor to require employers to hand out propaganda material to employees, as it had accused the previous government of doing. "I don’t think so. This is basically a basic fact sheet – here are your 10 national employment standards and this is what they mean and this is where you go," he said. "It is pretty basic stuff actually. And you don’t get a free mouse pad."
The ACTU’s Mr Lawrence said the 10 new national employment standards provided the bare minimum that every Australian worker should expect.
He foreshadowed union moves to lift the standards over time.
"In the future, unions will be looking for improvements to these minimum standards. We will particularly be looking for a new basic entitlement of paid maternity leave for women workers," he said.
National employment standards in detail
Maximum weekly hours
* 38-hour week for a full-time employee
* An employer may request or require an employee to work reasonable additional hours in a week
* An employee may refuse the additional hours if they are unreasonable
* Averaging of hours over a specified period is allowed, but may not exceed the average of 38 hours a week
Request for flexible working arrangements
* A parent or carer/employee may ASK an employer for a change in work arrangements if employed for longer than 12 months. A casual employee may request a change if employed on a systematic basis for 12 months or longer
Parental leave and related entitlements
* If employed for 12 months or longer, an employee qualifies for 12 months of unpaid parental leave. The other parent is allowed to take 12 months’ unpaid leave subsequently, but not concurrently
* A pregnant employee is entitled to six weeks’ leave before giving birth
* An extra 12 months’ unpaid leave is available with the agreement of the employer
* Four weeks is available to full-time employees, five weeks to shift workers, by agreement with employer
* Cashing out of annual leave is available, without duress
Personal/carers leave and compassionate leave
* Ten days’ paid leave is available
* Two days of compassionate leave is available in the event of a family death or serious illness/injury
Community service leave
* Available for jury service or for voluntary emergency management
* Employer is required to remunerate only the first 10 days of absence
Long service leave
* Standards apply to all awards but not exceptions such as a workplace agreement or a pre-reform Australian Workplace Agreement
* There are eight national public holidays plus special days in states and territories
* Employees are entitled to those days off unless faced with a reasonable request from the employer
Notice of termination and redundancy pay
* Period of notice is guided by the length of employment
* Redundancy pay is dependent on a period of service – four weeks for one to two years, 12 weeks for at least 10 years
Fair Work information statement
* Required to be presented to every new employee