The University of Sydney conducted a study on various Work Choices collective agreements and released its findings in a report entitled, “Lowering the Standards: From Awards to Work Choices in Retail and Hospitality Collective Agreements.” It summarized its observations as follows:
* Most of the agreements were made from templates of contracts that incorporated minimum standards which do not offer much to the employees.
* Agreements that had better terms for employees were usually negotiated by unions or large companies with bargaining experience. Those in smaller entities suffered lower monetary and non-monetary compensation.
* The collective agreements did not deal so much with worker-related issues like skills, childcare and work and family balance matters.
* Most of the collective agreements took away protected awards resulting in a loss of up to 30 percent of the employees’ earnings. This percentage could go higher when other items such as allowances, paid breaks, overtime and annual leave loading are considered.
The study concluded with some recommendations for the policy makers and researches under the new Industrial Relations regime, such as:
* Further review and evaluation of registered agreements;
* Continuous support for decent employers through labor standards;
* Adjustment of labor standards when certain patterns are observed;
* More industrial relations policy to address the real, rather than the imagined, problems of the labor sector;
* More focus on the lower-skilled, private services industries where employees are most vulnerable.
The report was funded by the Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland governments and has been accepted on its face by Julia Gillard, Shadow Employment Minister. Gillard remarked at how Australian working families in the retail and hospitality sector have lost so much as a result of the agreements under Work Choices. She said:
“It shows workers in that sector have lost up to 30 percent of their income because of Mr. Howard’s extreme laws. They have seen basic conditions stripped away, penalty rates, overtime, all gone, costing up to 30 percent of income.”
However, Federal Employment Minister Joe Hockey rejected the truthfulness of the report saying that the state Labor governments paid a “left-leaning academic to come up with misleading research that attacks the federal workplace relations system.”
Furthermore, he stated that:
“This report joins the six state parliamentary enquiries, advertising campaigns, sham workplace advocates, bogus IR conferences and court actions that have cost state taxpayers more than $22 million to date. The states have clearly decided that an expensive political campaign against the Howard Government is a good use of their time.”
Hockey criticized the report for ignoring the following:
* Wage increases of 3.2 percent in the retail industry and of 3.1 percent in the hospitality business in the last 12 months;
* The creation of 64,000 new jobs in accommodation, cafes and the restaurant industry; and
* The additional days allowed for sick leave, which went from 8 to 10 days and for carers’ leave, which went from 5 to 10 days under the Work Choices agreements.
Hockey maintains that conditions have improved contrary to the findings of the study of the University of Sydney. The study effectively fell on the Federal Employment Minister’s deaf ears.