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Government Plays Down Hopes of Big Changes to Modern Awards System

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November 22 2019

By Nicholas Hartman

The Modern Awards established by the Fair Work Act will be evaluated next year with a focus on a less complex structure of the new workplace relations reforms, but according to the Government, businesses should not be anticipating any drastic changes.

In an upcoming discussion paper on workplace reform, the Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter noted that industry awards would be considered, and that there would be a review how small businesses are affected by the complex system.

“The awards system is clearly something that a range of people think could have some improvements in,” Mr Porter said according to The Australian Financial Review.

“There are some awards – those particularly that govern workers in hospitality and retail and restaurants that are very complicated – that have multiple pay points, sometimes more than 50 pay points in a single award.

“We will have sort of a discussion paper around awards next year, but no one should be over-expectant or have rosy glasses on about the award system in terms of the capacity to simplify.”

The statements from Mr Porter came a day after Scott Morrison spoke about wanting to make the award system less complex and reduce the “clutter”.

Earlier this month, supermarket giant Woolworths, self-reported to have underpaid 5,700 staff up to $300 million over a nine-year period, which followed other underpayment by other big businesses such as Pizza Hut, 7/11, Subway and Westfarmers.

If paying employers correctly is something that big businesses can’t get right, retailers are arguing how small and medium size businesses are meant to.

Although Mr Porter mentioned there had already been a big overhaul in modernising and reducing hundreds of awards down to just 122, he agreed that the system still had its complications and further improvements could be made.

He added however, that big businesses should be sophisticated enough to navigate the existing award system, and rejected that the complexity was a result of underpayment of employees.

The Minister mentioned that making the landscape “easier to navigate for small businesses” would be his primary focus, and that looking at how the Fair Work Ombudsman handles navigating small businesses was one pathway.