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Fair Work Fitness - Have you got all your business risks covered?

Maria Robbins
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From 1 July 2009, employers and employees are subject to a new national workplace relations system under the terms of the Fair Work Act 2009.

Maria Robbins, CEO of Robbins Group discusses how you can manage the changes by taking a strong business focus...

It's a potential nightmare scenario. Without warning, an industrial dispute erupts at one of your business sites. Your company hasn't had any issues with unions for years - you didn't even know an issue was brewing!

You investigate and discover that weeks ago a union organiser was granted access to your site so he could inspect the wages and conditions of staff. The team leader, aware that new industrial relations laws were in place but unsure exactly what was required, allowed the union organiser on site. The organiser got talking to other staff and called a meeting which was attended by a large number of staff, issues were raised and now things are getting ugly.

This represents an immediate risk to your business...

So how can you prepare for the changes required by the Fair Work Act without industrial relations becoming an overwhelming distraction in your business?

Taking a strategic business risk approach to the Fair Work Act will minimise business disruption.

We recommend the following:

  1. Review your business strategy, mapping all possible Fair Work Act risks to your current business operations and future business strategies.
  2. Conduct a thorough review of your business and HR plans and procedures and identify and resolve any points of risk.
  3. Ensure that key personnel such as line managers are trained and confident in exercising their rights and responsibilities.
  4. Ensure that you can maintain a strong company culture through proactive people and culture strategies and management practices.

In the meantime, what do you do about your site dispute?

Making sure that you and your line managers understand your requirements as an employer under the Fair Work Act is the important first step.

The most important component of good workplace relations is the strength of leadership at all levels of your company. It is quite possible to maintain optimal business outcomes in a unionised environment. The quicker you can take leadership action to deal with the issues at a local level as part of a direct relationship between the employer and staff, the more effective the outcome will be.

Depending on the nature of your industry and workplace culture, the Fair Work Act may require your company to make many business and operational changes. A strong focus on practical business outcomes will produce the best resolution.

Business Risk Plans should cover off, amongst other things, the following aspects of the Act:

  • Unions have a right of entry under a set of new provisions to inspect suspected breaches of workplace laws. Since entry provisions will be defined by a union's eligibility to represent the members in a workplace, multiple unions may be able to operate in one workplace.
  • Business stakeholders are now required to meet a test of bargaining in good faith when negotiating an Enterprise Agreement.
  • New rules around Bargaining Representatives enable multiple bargaining representatives, including multiple unions to negotiate an Enterprise Agreement.
  • The entitlement to claim unfair dismissal changes, enabling staff with 6 months service in organisations with greater than 15 full time staff, and with 12 months service for smaller organisations to make a claim of unfair dismissal.
  • Redundancies will be able to be enacted only after all redeployment options are considered. From 1 January 2010 there will be a requirement for minimum severance pay entitlements.
  • New National Employment Standards and national awards will come into play in January 2010. All employment arrangements, including individual contracts will need to comply.
  • From January 2010, Enterprise Agreements will have to face the 'better off overall' or BOOT test.

 

Maria Robbins, CEO, Robbins Group

Maria Robbins is CEO of Robbins Group, an HR consultancy that activates business performance. Robbins Group works with Sarah Ralph, a partner at the Australian law firm Deacons, to deliver "Fair Work Fitness," a strategic, practical and pragmatic response to the Fair Work Act 2009. Robbins Group also delivers commercial outcomes to companies for business performance, HR and Industrial Relations issues. For further information about Robbins Group visit: www.robbinsgroup.com.au. Please send any comments or questions you have in relation to this article to: maria.robbins@robbinsgroup.com.au