The transition to the modern award system is “extraordinarily difficult and complex” and will take years to play out, Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson told the Industrial Relations Society of Victoria.
In his address at the society’s AGM in Melbourne on Friday, Wilson warned the award modernisation process would not be resolved for some time.
He referred to a Victorian case where a company switched awards in 2005 and five years later faced legal action after a worker complained she had been underpaid by more than $25,000 due to errors in the award change.
“What is behind this is a parallel for the shift to modern awards, since it illustrates what occurs when the ground rules change and the duty-holders both don’t know the rules have changed or understand the consequences,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the Vic example showed “award translation exercises can be extraordinarily difficult and complex tasks … [and] the consequences can take years to play out”. In particular, Wilson said working out how to phase wage rates in modern award settings would be complex and employers were likely to struggle with it.
Wilson said the FWO was working hard to ensure advice given through the Fair Work Infoline was reliable and binding on inspectors. But he said there were some risks associated with giving “binding advice” without seeing the workplace so there would be instances where binding advice could not be offered.
Wilson said the regulator’s approach to compliance sat with “a need to demonstrate to the community a very strong public value” so more people understood their rights and obligations on workplace relations. “The more general deterrence can engage the community, the less sharks, shames and shams we need to spend time on,” he said.
But Wilson said the FWO had not yet seen many investigations relating to “post-modern award” complaints and the office wasn’t expecting to see a great deal of these cases for another six months.
Source: Thomson Reuters Workforce news, 11 October 2010. For the full daily issue, sign up for a FREE TWO-WEEK TRIAL of Workforce and other Thomson Reuters premium news services. Click here to sign up.
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