Modern Awards Review 2023-24 – Submission by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in reply to Work and Care submissions

Policies, Publications & Submissions - March 26, 2024

Response to overarching themes

No reduction in worker entitlements

Many of the proposals put forward by employer groups in their submissions would strip away fundamental and hard-fought entitlements and protections, and would see workers go backwards. Many of the proposals are a cynical attempt to reduce conditions under the guise of addressing work and care, and are not consistent with the modern award objective, which includes new considerations relating to gender equality and job security, nor with the Minister’s intent in requesting the Commission to undertake this review. They are not in the bests interests of working people, especially working women and workers with caring responsibilities. Rather than delivering fairness and roster justice they will instead make the balancing of work and care more difficult.

Proposals that would result in a reduction in worker entitlements should be rejected for the following reasons:

  • This stream of the review has already revealed the deeply gendered impacts of the modern award system. Any reduction in entitlements would only exacerbate the systemic disadvantage experienced by award-reliant women and carers. For example, many award provisions regarding part time employment, rostering, span of hours, overtime, TOIL, minimum engagements, on call and recall to duty disproportionately impact on women workers in two main ways. Firstly, because they have significant negative impacts on the ability of workers to plan for and balance their unpaid caring responsibilities outside the workplace with their work commitments, plan financially and achieve economic security. Secondly, because there is a stark gendered difference in these entitlements between awards covering male dominated industries and those covering female dominated industries, with workers in female dominated industries being worse off in many ways – including have less secure employment, more unpredictable and precarious working arrangements, lower incomes, and less ability to manage their caring responsibilities. This is layered over the top of the reality that current award entitlements are inadequate to allow workers to manage their caring responsibilities.
  • Award-reliant workers are definitionally more vulnerable than most other workers in Australia, being reliant on the modern award safety net. They are on average more likely to be female, younger, work fewer hours, earn lower wages, are far more often casually employed, and tend to work for smaller employers. These intersectional indicators point to a heightened risk of exposure to low pay and insecure and part time work among the modern award reliant workforce compared to other employees.
  • The Minister, when writing to the Commission regarding this review, clearly stated “Consistent with the Government’s commitment to improving wages and conditions, it is the Government’s view that outcomes should not result in any reduction in worker entitlements.” This was reflected in the President’s Statement of 15 September 2024, which stated that “The Minister also notes the Government’s view that the review should not result in any reduction in entitlements for award-covered employees. These statements are clearly applicable to the whole Modern Awards Review, and are not limited to any particular stream.

It is a significant thing to reduce the rights and entitlements owing to an individual. This is particularly the case where each term of a modern award has been the subject of a detailed process of formation and extensive subsequent review. This review is not the forum to re-litigate proposed cuts to conditions from the past, or to explore new and innovative ways in which to strip entitlements.

There is also a myopic focus on so called flexibility (ie employer control of working time) in some of the employer submissions, with the repeated insistence that work arrangements must be flexible for employers as well as employees.  When employers use the term flexibility, they mean less security, predictability and control for working people. They seek ‘flexibilities’ that give employers ultimate scheduling control, while taking away important protections, rights and entitlements from employees, and which undermine job security and gender equality. This impacts most profoundly on women workers and carers. Several points must be made about this:

  • As important as flexible work is to allow workers to undertake their caring responsibilities, this stream of the review is far broader and looks at many issues other than flexible work.
  • This stream of the review is properly focused on assisting employees to manage work and care – not on how to create new flexibilities for employers to require employees to work at all hours of the day or night without appropriate compensation.
  • Flexibility should not come at the cost of workers’ rights, including secure working arrangements. This has been acknowledged both by the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care and the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, as well as in many academic publications. It is not only possible for work to be both flexible and secure, it is essential to ensure that women and workers with caring responsibilities are not disadvantaged, and that awards continue to meet the Modern Awards Objective.
  • Workers need greater control and predictability of working hours, and they need roster justice to enable them to work and meet their caring responsibilities.

Therefore, the proper focus of this stream of the review should be to ensure that modern awards provide an appropriate safety net that does not disadvantage women and carers. This includes proposals that genuinely assist workers to balance their work and caring responsibilities and do not reduce their entitlements.

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