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Pre-emptive strike

Aged care nurses in Queensland and NSW can pre-emptively protect their wages.

Aged care nurses in Queensland and NSW can breathe a little easier with news they can pre-emptively protect their wages.

In a win for these nurses, workplace relations minister Julia Gillard has clarified the rules around when employees and unions can apply for take home pay orders under the new award modernisation process.

Despite expecting the majority of employers to do the right thing and not reduce their employees’ pay, Gillard said the government was responding to concerns voiced by some unions, including the Australian Nursing Federation.

The new regulations put “beyond doubt that an employee or outworker may apply for a take-home pay order before suffering a reduction in pay, where the reduction is likely to occur,” Gillard said.

And the unions won’t need to apply on behalf of individual workers – they will be able to apply for orders covering an entire class of workers.

According to the ANF, this will help in protecting the wages of 15,000 award-reliant nurses.

“No employee should suffer a reduction in their wages as a result of the establishment of modern awards,” Ged Kearney, ANF federal secretary, said.

“The regulations make it clear that applications can be made on a prospective basis on behalf of a class of employees. That means employees will not have to wait until they suffer a loss in wages before taking action.

“And Fair Work Australia may make orders requiring employers to continue to make payments in the event that there is a reasonable apprehension that wages may be reduced.”

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the changes provided greater security for workers during the overhaul of the award system.

“There have been some disappointing decisions from award modernisation that had the potential to reduce standards, but today’s changes will strengthen the rights of workers,” Lawrence said. “Employees will not have to wait to suffer a loss in wages and then claw back their pay.

Changes to awards that affect remuneration will be phased in over a five year period in annual instalments, which according to the government will ensure “that the impact on employers of changes to minimum standards is gradual.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman said employees should check their pay packets carefully and seek advice if there are unexplained changes from their union or from the Fair Work information line, 131 394 or at fairwork.gov.au.

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