AS EMPLOYERS and HR professionals come to grips with WorkChoices, fears of skill shortages are preventing widespread changes to workplace agreements.
“Some employers are reluctant to make changes. In part, this is due to the national skills shortage crisis –some employers are concerned that making changes under the new system would demotivate staff,” said Nichola Constant, senior associate at law firm Cutler Hughes and Harris.
However, any negative views in terms of workplace agreements generally exist because employers have not taken enough steps to ensure employees have understood the whole process, according to Daniel Sleemen, solicitor at Swaab Attorneys.
“Every employee, every employer, every person wants to know about any kind of change or initiative. Employees are going to ask questions about whether it’s going to affect their pay, their level of employment security or their future in terms of progressing through the organisation. That’s a natural reaction from employees and employers have to be empathetic and understanding of that,” he said.
While Sleeman believes a lot of employers get caught up in the politics and media controversy surrounding WorkChoices, Jacquie Seemann, a partner at Cutler Hughes & Harris, said employers may be waiting to see how the system settles down before they make any significant moves that change their arrangements.
“I think it’s going to take more than another year for the dust to settle so that we know what WorkChoices really means for the Australian workforce,” she said.
“At the moment we’re in the middle of a dust storm because so many things have been thrown up in the air. There is the possibility for immediate change.”
For Sleeman, employers that want to maintain key talent must ensure employees understand what’s going to happen to them, the reasons the business is doing it and what it means for the future.
“If HR and management want to implement workplace agreements successfully, they must sit down with each other and figure out why they want to do it and how they can justify it to themselves before they can even hope to justify it to their staff,” he said.
According to Constant, employers also have an opportunity to take advantage of the flexibility WorkChoices offers in a way that creates a desirable workplace for all parties. “There’s flexibility in the way rewards can be structured if employers take advantage of the whole WorkChoices regime,” Seemann said.
Individual contracts in conjunction with AWAs are an effective way of confirming to an employee that they still have certain rights and entitlements. The best strategy will firstly consider whether or not an individual or collective agreement is the way to go for a particular business – a decision that must be made at the management and board level, Sleeman said.
“The second thing is to decide where it fits into the whole business, what are the issues you are trying to address,” he said.
“The best workplace agreement strategies also include with the workplace agreement a draft or even a final version of an amended or updated policy and procedures manual.”
He also said a lot of employers get either overexcited by the concept of workplace agreements, so they don’t know why they’re doing it, or they get put off because they don’t understand it themselves. “Therefore, they’ll never actually consider it a real benefit for the business, which is a shame,” Sleeman said.