After six years of review the Fair Work Commission is expected to soon hand down its ruling on a case relating to the modern graphic arts award and clear up confusion over linkages between wage rates, classifications and competency standards.
As part of the review process the Fair Work Commission received submissions about the Graphic Arts, Printing and Publishing Award 2010 (Modern Graphics Award) from employer groups including the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).
In December 2018 the full bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) reserved its decision on the award and the ruling could come any day now.
The linkages between the award and competency standards in the Printing and Graphic Arts Training Package arose after a lengthy case in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, now the FWC. After 16 years of commission proceedings the pre-modern Graphic Arts Award was varied in 2005 to link wage rates and classifications to competency units in the 2005 version of the training package.
Ai Group head of national workplace relations policy Stephen Smith says over the past 14 years the points system has been rarely used and is essentially obsolete. His organisation sought to change the linkages after member consultations highlighted concerns that the links may lead to reclassification claims.
He also wanted to clear up any confusion within the industry that employer association membership is the only way employers can be covered by the award, as employer groups and unions have not been party to awards since January 1, 2010, after the Fair Work Act 2009 was enacted.
“In the distant past, employers were bound to federal awards through their membership of an employer association, and state awards no longer applied to such employers, but this is no longer the case. These days federal awards apply to corporations as a result of the Fair Work Act 2009, and state awards no longer apply to corporations,” Smith told ProPrint.
“Employer associations attract membership on the basis of the quality of their representation and services, not on the basis of award coverage. This is as it should be.”
He said the Ai Group got involved out of concerns about wage rates and classifications.
“We have been heavily involved in the case which relates to a schedule in the Graphic Arts Award that has a quite complicated structure concerning wage rates and classifications,” Smith said, adding his organisation represents a number of large Australian printing and packaging companies and has over 40 lawyers in its industrial relations team.
“It will be important because it is about the way that employees are classified and paid under the award so there could be significant implications for pay rates depending on the outcome.”
Lorraine Cassin, print division secretary at the AMWU, said it is essential that pay rates be linked to education, adding the ruling in the award mostly applied to small to medium print shops, rather than larger print businesses.
“Why wouldn’t we recognise the current classifications that are in the training package?” Cassin told ProPrint.
“Everyone has already got classifications in their enterprise agreements. This relates to award-based employees who are on the basic award rates so their position on this is actually quite concerning to us.”
PIAA CEO Andrew Macaulay says his organisation made a submission to the commission at the beginning of the review and a comment at the end.
He says trying to link a national pay award to state-based vocational training is complicated and is in part why he says he is lobbying state vocational education training departments to adopt a national print training model.
“So there’s a complication about state and federal funding for TAFE and where the curriculum is coming from,” Macaulay said.
“When you start to talk about the linkage between the outcome of training and the award it becomes a bit like octopus soup but that’s the way the Fair Work Act is written so that is the act that we operate within,” he said.
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