Warning over AWA duress

by 11 Dec 2007

AUSTRALIA’S WORKPLACE Ombudsman recently warned employers against applying undue pressure on workers to sign Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) following reports that some businesses want to move their employees to AWAs to pre-empt proposed transitional legislation by the new Federal Government to phase-out AWAs and stop new ones being signed.

“Placing undue pressure on a worker to sign an AWA is unfair, utterly unlawful and will not be tolerated,” said ombudsman Nicholas Wilson.

“The community expects that workers will be treated fairly and employers are warned that the Workplace Ombudsman will not hesitate to prosecute those who apply or attempt to apply such pressure on workers.”

The ombudsman recently prosecuted two cases of duress to sign AWAs and is currently litigating an additional nine cases – two in South Australia, one in NSW, three in Tasmania, one in Western Australia, one in Victoria and one case with alleged instances of duress in Victoria, NSW and Western Australia.

Peter Hendy, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) also advised employers to ensure that employment arrangements in the period before new industrial relations laws are submitted to the federal Parliament are commercially driven and based on sound HR practices that comply with existing laws.

With thousands of young people looking to employers for jobs as they complete schooling or university in coming months, business-based employment decisions should not be put on the backburner simply because new workplace laws are proposed, he said.

“Employers are cautioned that any unfair practices would be counterproductive, and in many cases illegal,”he said.

“For a start, the few businesses which do not do the right thing will find it hard to attract or retain good staff. It is also timely to remind employers that under current laws there is no employer free-for-all.”

The law makes it illegal for employers to alter employment conditions unilaterally or for the purpose of denying exiting rights, he said, and also provides remedies against unlawful dismissals, and in medium to larger businesses, unfair dismissals.

“The increased public spotlight on employer and employee behaviour is observed by the governments and politicians who make the laws.”

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