FEDERAL Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch has argued for greater flexibility of employment arrangements and a review of penalty rates that are crippling small businesses in the Far North.
Speaking in Parliament on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, Mr Entsch said it was imperative to reduce the Far North’s unacceptably high levels of business failure and youth unemployment.
He added that despite today’s 24 hour society, flexibility in the workplace has not kept pace with the demands of modern life and the evolving challenges of modern employment.
The proposed Individual Flexibility Arrangements (IFAs) featured in the Bill would allow people to modify their working hours with their employer, avoiding incurring penalty or overtime rates for the sake of greater flexibility.
“IFAs are designed to help employees to manage child care or other caring arrangements, to spend time with their families or to have time for other commitments,” Mr Entsch said.
“There are key safeguards: an employer cannot force an employee to sign an IFA or make it a condition of their employment… and a worker has to provide a statement to the employer saying that the IFA meets their genuine needs and that they are better off overall.”
Mr Entsch also took a swipe at the impact of high penalty rates on tourism and hospitality businesses, describing “an employment environment where penalty rates have got totally out of control”.
“The inherent nature of tourism means it is not a 9am-5pm enterprise,” he commented. “The very times that tourists are walking the streets looking for a coffee or a meal, the doors are closed – and these are the times when penalty rates apply.
“It is these rates that make it virtually impossible for businesses to open their doors, pay staff and still make a profit.”
Mr Entsch said there were many people who would rather just be working – happy with a fair rate of pay and improved flexibility without all the penalties that go with it, and cited his 20-year-old son as an example.
“We have university students or mums who want to work or want more flexibility in their working arrangements, but cannot – because employers do not want to employ them on a Sunday, a public holiday or outside of the so-called normal working hours because of the high cost of penalty rates.”
Mr Entsch said it was particularly difficult for small businesses that are run as mum-and-dad operations, where “if you cannot afford to employ someone else, you have to do it yourself”.
“By creating more flexibility in the workplace under agreements that ensure workers are better off, as judged by their own particular circumstances, I think there is a huge amount of potential here.
“At the end of the day we want to be a modern, dynamic, flexible economy. This goes hand in hand with creating a productive workforce that will lead to greater prosperity for our community and for our country.”
Examples of how IFAs could work:
· Rob is one of the maintenance crew on the dive boats that visit the Great Barrier Reef. His employment is covered by an enterprise agreement, which has penalty rates. Unfortunately, Rob’s mum lives in Weipa and she is not well. Rob wants to work from Monday to Thursday so he can travel on Fridays to his mum and stay with her until Sunday. He still wants to get his normal weekly wage and he does not want to work part time. Rob speaks to his boss and they agree on an individual flexibility arrangement, allowing him to work 38 hours per week by working later Mondays to Thursdays without the penalty and overtime rates that would usually apply. Rob is better off overall because he can help his mum, something that means a lot to him, and he still gets his weekly wage.
· Gemma is a local mum who works part time as a bookkeeper for a restaurant chain. She usually works from 9 am to 4.30 pm under an award agreement. Her husband Greg works an afternoon shift and starts work at two o’clock. Gemma would like to finish work earlier in the afternoons so she can pick up the kids from school. Gemma talks to her employer and they make an IFA so she can start work at seven and finish at 2.30, meaning she can start work before the normal hours of work for the business. Gemma is better off overall because she still works the same number of hours but can pick up her kids and avoids paying after-school care.