AMWU to continue push for award competencies

The Australian Manufacturers Workers Union says a Fair Work Commission (FWC) decision to remove a competency schedule from the Graphic Arts Award is disappointing but says it will now push to embed it in enterprise agreements.

The FWC sided with the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) last week to remove Schedule C from the award on the grounds that doing so would establish a simple and easy to understand classification for employees and employers.

The AMWU and the Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA) had been united in their call for Schedule C of the award to be updated with certain competencies to be removed and others updated or added.

The Ai Group called for the total removal of the schedule on the grounds that changing weighting of competencies would disadvantage employers as it opened the door for employees to demand higher wages for the same work with the FWC ultimately ruling in Ai Group’s favour.

In its ruling, the FWC said, “The removal of an outmoded Schedule C of the Award will not in our view cause any serious or significant disadvantage to any employee covered by the Award who does not possess a formal qualification if the employee otherwise meets the definition and will result in clarity of operation. As is evident from the definitions in Schedule B, a formal qualification is not a prerequisite to an employee being classified at a particular level.”

The ruling means pay and classification levels will now be determined using Schedule B of the award.

Schedule C aligned competencies to the Printing and Graphic Arts Training Package and used a points-based system to determine wage classifications in the case of an industrial dispute.

Ai Group head of national workplace relations policy Stephen Smith welcomed the decision and said employees will now be paid under the award using a simpler system which applies the descriptors in Schedule B for each classification level.

“Schedule C was inserted into the Award in 2005 after a case that ran for 16 years – one of the longest running cases in the history of the Commission,” Smith told Sprinter.

“The Schedule links competency standards in a former version of the Printing and Graphic Arts Industry Training Package with wage rates in the Award. The system is extremely complicated and creates significant cost risks for employers due to potential reclassification claims and associated wage increases. The risks would have increased substantially if the Schedule had been amended in the manner that the AMWU was seeking in the case.”

“Fortunately, the Full Bench of the FWC has accepted the evidence and submissions of Ai Group and decided to abolish Schedule C and the associated classification system. Employees will now be classified and paid under the award through the much simpler system of applying the descriptors for each classification level, as found in Schedule B of the Award, and through the recognition of any formal qualifications that an employee holds and is using, such as a trade certificate.”

AMWU national secretary print Lorraine Cassin acknowledged Schedule C was out of date in terms of competencies but said it was disappointing the Ai Group pushed for it be totally abolished.

“In an industry where most workers don’t have formal qualifications, competencies are an important part of how a worker’s classification, and therefore their pay, can be fairly determined. By removing competencies from the Award entirely, it makes it harder for workers to win changes to their classifications that reflect their skills and their work,” Cassin said.

“We accept that the competencies that were in the Award were out of date, but that does not mean that competencies aren’t important. It is our position that the Award should reflect the relevant competencies that are in the Graphic Arts training package.

“We are disappointed that rather than working with us to find a solution to the out-of-date competencies in the Award, the AI Group just pushed to abolish competencies entirely. This devalues workers’ skills and undermines professional standards in our industries.

“As a result of this decision by the Fair Work Commission, we will be working to embed competencies in Enterprise Agreements to ensure that workers’ skills are appropriately recognised and remunerated.”

The Real Media Collective chief executive officer Kellie Northwood said the ruling was a win for the industry.

“The Collective works in partnership with Ai Group and is pleased for the industry that the Fair Work Commission got this right,” Northwood said.

“It was our view the proposed amendments would have negatively impacted everyone, employees and employers alike. We have supported Ai Group in its submission and congratulate them on a well-considered approach. Whilst we have a working relationship with the AMWU, in this instance we could not agree and further could not see evidence to the benefit of the proposal from AWMU of each individual competency being added.

PIAA chief executive officer Andrew Macaulay said he accepted the ruling with the association continuing to support members navigating the award.

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