Employers: Dismiss wages case

Aged care employers have stated their case, calling upon Fair Work Australia to dismiss the unions’ application to increase the wages of low paid workers in residential facilities.

Aged care employers have called on Fair Work Australia (FWA) to dismiss the application, made by sector unions, to increase the wage of low paid workers in residential facilities.

Employers got their chance to formally respond to the wages application, brought to the FWA by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU) and the Australian Workers’ Union, Queensland (AWUEQ), last week.

Counsel for the employers called for the case to be thrown out, reasoning that the unions’ application had not substantiated that a wage increase was in the “public interest”. Therefore, counsel said, the application should be dismissed.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) also responded to the application, arguing that it “cannot be demonstrated that [a wage increase] is in the public interest”.

“The outcome of this case has the potential to affect not only the relevant employers subject to these applications, but also to extend to other sectors who are may be considered predominantly award-reliant for wages and conditions,” the ACCI stated in its submission.

“ACCI opposes the order sought by the unions based on the lack of evidence it has demonstrated to satisfy the “public interest” test [required by the act].

“The AWUEQ relies on the LHMU’s material. Therefore, the AWUEQ have not provided any evidence of the extent to which it can satisfy the public interest. The AMUEQ’s application should therefore be dismissed.”

The wages application is a landmark case which uses the new low paid bargaining powers of the Fair Work Act to bring employees, employers and potentially the federal government to the table, to increase the wage of “low paid” workers.

The hearing is set to commence on Monday 22 November where a full bench will determine whether or not the application stands on its merits. Should the court allow the application to proceed, both sides will have to define exactly what a “low paid employee” is.

The unions will argue that “low paid employees” should encompass those on award wages as well as those on enterprize agreements.

Aged Care Association’s CEO, Rod Young, said that employers believe that “low paid” only refers to employees currently being paid award wages.

“I think that most employers have already entered into [enterprise] agreements with employees that have eventually delivered higher rates anyway. Therefore one of the primary objectives of the application will have already been met.

“The other is that employers believe that they are already paying maximum rates within the resources they have.

“[Employers] are mostly government funded and any subsequent increase in pay rates must be covered by an equivalent agreement by the government, as the major funder, to ensure that employers are able to make payments over and above existing rates.”

Residential aged care union members are the first low-paid employee group to have ever have sought a wage increase through the act.

“This is virgin territory as no one has covered this before,” he said.
Mr Young said that should the FWA’s response to the earlier issues be yes, then it will be “absolutely fundamental for the Commonwealth to come to the table”.

“There is little sense in not bringing them to the table, as we can’t afford to pay for [the increases]. But we don’t know if the federal government will attend.

“This is all new law no one has any ideas. And [we do not know] whether the federal government will pay for a pay rise.

“The FWA could require the Commonwealth to attend and they could say, ‘No. It’s up to the employers to pay as we give them enough money to fund extra increases’…There’s absolutely no assurances.”

The application only covers residential aged care workers and not community care employees. The LHMU explained that should this test case be successful, then community care staff could be included in the next application.

“The union recognises that members  in the home care area are suffering serious pay disadvantages, however this is the first time this section of the act has been utilised and it was decided that the residential aged care sector would be first off the rank,” said LHMU national secretary, Louise Tarrant.

“We will be looking at doing one sector at a time. Once we know the position of the case then we will be able to plan further action.”

Tags: aged-care, australian-chamber-of-commerce-and-industry-acci, australian-workers-union, fair-work-act, fair-work-australia, liquor-hospitality-and-miscellaneous-union-lhmu, queensland-awueq,

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