Australians employed in small businesses must have access to redundancy pay in the Labor Government’s proposed new modern award system, unions said today.

Unions are concerned at signs employer groups are pushing the federal government to exempt small businesses from giving workers redundancy pay following the release last week of draft new industry awards.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said there were about 2 million workers in small businesses of under 15 employees who would disadvantaged and have no entitlement to redundancy pay if the lobbying by employer groups was successful.

He urged the Federal Government to support the Australian Industrial Relations Com-mission’s inclusion in the draft awards of a redundancy provision for these businesses.

“Redundancy pay for workers in small businesses was an important workplace right that was snatched away by the Howard Government’s Work Choices industrial relations laws,” Mr Lawrence said.

“The Liberals’ Work Choices IR laws made it easy for employers to sack staff unfairly and to evade paying workers any redundancy pay.

“Workers who lose their job can take many months to find other work and it essential they have redundancy pay to tide them over.

“It is important that this entitlement is restored, as is protection from unfair dismissal, in a post-Work Choices industrial relations system.”

Employees in small businesses first won access to redundancy pay in the mid-1980s, and it was extended to all small businesses after a test case run by the ACTU in 2004.

Mr Lawrence said unions welcomed most elements of the priority draft awards but unions remain concerned in some areas.

“The modern award system should aim to create a fair safety net for the wages and conditions of all workers,” Mr Lawrence said.

“It is a positive sign that the proposed awards would provide an effective mechanism for the settlement of workplace disputes by an independent umpire.

“It’s also commendable that the commission has recognised that employee consultation is a key part of the modern workplace.

However, we do note that the drafts do, in certain areas, result in a reduction of conditions.

“The bottom line must be that workers are not worse off under the modern awards.

“One area that unions will examine is the loading for casual workers.

“It is important that any deficiencies in the draft awards are rectified and employees are not disadvantaged.”