Safety net for Australian workers – National Employment Standard

30 July 2008 Topics: Workplace relations and safety

Recently the Government announced details of the long awaited safety net for Australian workers known as the National Employment Standard. The new Standard, which expands on the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard introduced by the Howard Government and contains 10 minimum employment standards which will form the basis upon which modern awards will be built.

The Standard takes effect from 1 January 2010. In the interim the Australian Fair Pay and Condition Standard will continue to apply.

The new standards govern maximum weekly hours of work, requests for flexible working arrangements, termination, public holiday and redundancy arrangements and parental, carers, annual, community service and long service leave. The terms and conditions of employees who fall under the federal system must meet the Standard.

The Government is promoting the new Standard as simpler than the former Standard, while providing stronger core conditions. The Standard does not contain the level of detail provided in the previous document.

There are numerous changes. For example, certain employee entitlements in relation to parental leave removed by Work Choices have now returned: the Standard reintroduces the ability of an employee to request a second year of unpaid leave; and provides that employees may request flexible working arrangements to care for children under school age, such a request may only be refused by the employer on reasonable business grounds.

Even where no obvious differences between the two Standards are apparent, there are subtle differences which may have implications for employers. An example is with respect to the respective sections dealing with maximum weekly hours. Under the former Standard an employee could not be requested or required to work more than 38 hours per week and “additional reasonable hours”. The new Standard, however, provides that an employee’s hours of work must not exceed 38 hours, and although the employer may request the employee to work additional hours, the Standard specifically provides that the request may be refused by the employee if the additional hours are unreasonable.

Jury service, redundancy pay and long service leave is also now regulated by the federal system and appears and is covered in the Standard.

Notably, employers will also have to provide a Fair Work Information Statement to new employees.

View the full text of the National Employment Standard.

View the Minister’s media release.

If you would like more information on the National Employment Standard, please contact one of our Workplace Relations team on 3231 2444.

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