The Fair Work Commission (Commission) must review modern awards every four years, or as soon as practicable after each four year anniversary of the commencement of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The first four yearly review commenced in February 2014 and is still underway. There has been extensive consultation regarding numerous award-specific issues and common issues affecting multiple awards.
A Bill was introduced in 2017 which would, if passed, repeal the 4 yearly review requirement. As the Bill has not been passed, the Commission needed to address what would happen in respect of the second 4 yearly review, due to take place in 2018.
The President of the Commission, Justice Iain Ross, issued a statement on 2 January 2018 stating that the second review will be delayed, as it is not practicable for the second review to commence, when there is still a substantial amount of work to be done to finalise the current review.
Plain Language Awards
In September 2015, the Commission began working on a process to re-draft awards using plain language principles. The aim is to make awards simpler to understand for both employers and employees. Research conduced in 2014 indicated that businesses want logically structured awards which provide hourly rates and other entitlements in monetary amounts, rather than percentages.
In a recent ABC interview, Justice Ross stated that the object of the plain language review process was to ensure that an employer or employee could read an award without needing “a history lesson or a paid advocate to interpret it”.
The Commission began the process with the Pharmacy Industry Award 2010 and as of May 2018, eight more awards are being redrafted, including the Cleaning Services Award 2010, the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010 and the General Retail Industry Award 2010. Justice Ross has indicated that revised awards are expected to be completed by the first quarter of next year.
Common Issues within Awards
The Commission is also dealing with common issues found in multiple awards, such as issues surrounding part-time and casual employees, annual leave, payment of wages, termination of employment, redundancy, time-off in lieu of overtime and paid leave for family and domestic violence issues.
In relation to family and domestic violence issues, a Full Bench of the Commission agreed that provisions for family violence and domestic leave are necessary, but did not accept the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submission that the leave should be paid leave. A model clause was recently released and submissions are still being heard in regards to the proposed provision.
The current award review is expected to conclude at the end of this year.