Bosses push dodgy AWAs on young workers

UNITE has been campaigning hard against AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements or individual contracts). We have claimed that AWAs are aimed at driving down wages by weakening workers bargaining power.

Young workers in particular are being hit the hardest by AWAs. It is hard for anyone to negotiate on their own against their boss let alone someone who is new to the workforce.

If you have had doubts about the union movement’s claims that AWAs are bad for young workers, then don’t just believe us – look at the figures provided by the Federal government and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA). The ARA is a ‘union’ for bosses in the retail industry.

An ARA email, sent to bosses this week, stated that nearly half of all AWAs have compliance issues! Up to as many as half of the 1,000 AWAs randomly sampled each month by the Office of the Employment Advocate are being referred to the Office of Workplace Services (OWS) with question marks over their compliance with the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard. Most matters are about the underpayment of wages.

Since its inception in March, the OWS has looked into 5,500 matters where employees have alleged underpayment of wages. Such allegations make up the bulk of enquiries the OWS receives. The OWS report that of those, 3,500 matters have been finalised, resulting in the office collecting $3 million in underpayments on behalf of 3,000 employees.

The OWS is also currently prosecuting three retailers over alleged underpayment of wages and applying duress to employees to enter into Australian Workplace Agreements. Many of these claims to the OWS would have been submitted by unions. We can only imagine how many other cases are going unreported where workers are outside the union movement or are not sure of how to go about reclaiming their wages.

Also this week it was revealed that workers as young as 14 years of age are signing dodgy AWAs under the new IR Laws. According to the Federal government’s own figures 598 AWAs were signed by children under the age of 15 from July last year until May 2006. Another 7,779 individual contracts were signed by children aged between 15 and 18 years old and a further 13,269 individual contracts were signed by young workers aged 18 to 21 over the same period.

Under the new IR laws AWAs can legally remove award protections like rest breaks, meal breaks, public holiday, weekend and overtime pay without any compensation for workers.

The Government’s workplace agency (OEA) has admitted that 40% of AWA individual contracts registered under the new laws get rid of rest breaks and 63% of AWAs scrap penalty rates and annual leave loading and half get rid of shift allowances, overtime loadings, skills payments and public holiday pay.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As the months go on more and more workers will have to sign on to these dodgy contracts. The best way to make sure you don’t get ripped off at work is to be in the union.

With the help of your union it is possible to negotiate a collective agreement in your workplace. When you negotiate collectively you are in a stronger position to argue for pay rises and to hold on to all of your rest breaks and penalties.

If you work in fast food or retail and your boss is trying to get you to sign an AWA call UNITE. We not only fight against wage cutting AWAs but for improvements to working conditions.