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saying they can benefit both sides

Employers defend AWAs, saying they can benefit both sidesMARK COLVIN: Industrial relations reform has been in the spotlight this week during the union movement's "week of action". One of their key concerns is the Government's plan to make Australian workplace agreements, or AWAs, more widespread.Unions say it's all part of an effort to sideline them and make the collective bargaining process redundant, but some employers and employees believe that AWAs can benefit both sides, especially in smaller workplaces.Neal Woolrich reports.NEAL WOOLRICH: Five years ago, the Juicy Isle company in Hobart faced a difficult business situation. It wanted to run its factory on a 12hour shift but found its overtime costs were spiralling out of control. The company struck a deal with its employees; workers would put in longer hours, Woolrich John Richbut get an extra day off every week. They replaced their employment award with an Australian workplace agreement, or AWA.Juicy Isle General Manager, Garry Stack.GARRY STACK: We needed to do something where we could work our employees 11.5 hours a day and a few other things that we had, we had some issues with industrial relations etcetera and we saw this as a way where we could rectify most of our situations and keep all of our employees happy, because to do something like this you had to keep them in the process, talk to them about what you were doing and they all became part of it.NEAL WOOLRICH: Juicy Isle has grown from 16 to 60 employees since it entered its AWA. Garry Stack says the company's made huge savings on wages and the AWA is easier for all to understand.GARRY STACK: When we put new employees on, they walk in, they have this in their hand for five days prior to them starting. We interview them. We give them the AWA to read. Woolrich Outlet Store Once they sign it they know exactly where they stand. We don't have any disputes. Woolrich Outlet Store We have concerns and when they do the resolution process is so easy that it's all over and done with in a matter of minutes instead of hours.NEAL WOOLRICH: James Hall is an employee at Juicy Isle. He says workers are now much better off, both in terms of pay and conditions.JAMES HALL: Certainly with management and personnel, everybody has a say in it, becomes a discussion situation rather than living by the award. Woolrich ParkasThe award's quite hard to look into and basically we've restructured the award to suit our industry and we've found that we now can cram all the information out of the award just into a couple of pages that in layman's terms are quite easy to understand.NEAL WOOLRICH: One of the Government's key industrial relations aims is to make it easier to enter AWAs, but ACTU President Sharan Burrow says it will result in the rights of vulnerable workers being abused. She says there are already examples of workers being forced by their bosses to become independent contractors.SHARAN BURROW: Not only can you be dismissed at whim, but you can be forced to become a small business yourself in order to work for minimum wages with no entitlements for another small business.People look at you and say, well hang on that's not right. Of course it's not right, and the second thing they say, not in Australia. Well yes, in Australia and why on earth a Government, a Prime Minister thinks he can get away with tearing up 100 years of people's rights and making people effectively slaves to the whim of an employer, I just don't understand.NEAL WOOLRICH: But the Office of the Employment Advocate says there are rules to ensure that employees are no worse off under an AWA.Woolrich Outlet Store The Federal Employment Advocate Peter McIlwain.PETER MCILWAIN: An Australian workplace agreement replaces the award. It has to pass a no disadvantage test. The no disadvantage test is conducted against the award that would apply to that employee doing that job in that workplace and so whilst it's possible to change conditions that would exist in an award through an AWA, overall there can't be any disadvantage to the employee when the AWA is compared with the award.

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