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Mixed reaction to allowance

Wednesday, 10th February, 2010

* SDA Secretary Peter Malinauskas. * SDA Secretary Peter Malinauskas.

A union is claiming victory after its application for a 4.28 per cent district allowance for Broken Hill retail workers was granted. But last week's decision by Fair Work Australia has been condemned by Business Broken Hill, which said the "loading" will cost jobs and hurt local businesses.

The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA) said yesterday that the allowance would be paid to retail workers now covered by the federal government's new "Modern Awards". Modern Awards, which came into effect on January 1, replace Federal Awards and NAPSAs (notional agreements preserving state awards), including the BH Commerce and Industry Consent Award.

The new awards aim to establish one set of minimum conditions for people who work in the same industries or occupations. They cover employees already in the Federal system as well as State system employees who will transfer to the Federal system by the end of the year.

SDA Secretary Peter Malinauskas said the union advocated for the district allowance to be paid to Broken Hill workers in the retail, fast food, hair and beauty and pharmacy sectors. "I'm pleased to say Fair Work Australia has granted the SDA's application and Broken Hill retail workers are the big winners," he said.

"Retail, fast food, hair and beauty and pharmacy workers covered by these modern awards in Broken Hill can now enjoy this extra 4.28 per cent allowance on top of their wage."

Broken Hill employees have long enjoyed entitlements, most notably the allowance plus an additional week of annual leave, above what their counterparts elsewhere in the country receive. But while the decision means that locals still have the allowance, Fair Work Australia rejected the union's application for the additional week of annual leave to be included in the new award.

Mr Malinauskas said in lieu of the extra week the commission increased the allowance. While the inclusion of the allowance applies specifically to the retail sector, Mr Malinauskas said it "certainly sets a precedent for other award negotiations". "This success now puts us in a strong position to negotiate a similar allowance into other agreements covering retail workers in Broken Hill."

The president of Business BH, John Groenendijk, wrote to the federal government saying the allowance would be "detrimental to the growth of businesses and trading" in Broken Hill. In his letter to deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Mr Groenendijk said Broken Hill was one of the poorest towns in the State with most residents reliant on welfare "yet these factors are not being considered in industrial relations decision".

"As far as the benefit to workers in Broken Hill, the loading is self-defeating ... contractors outside of Broken Hill who do not have to pay the loading can undercut businesses and therefore reduce employment opportunities for local people ...," he wrote. He said local employers viewed the introduction of the Modern Award System as "our only real opportunity to bring local businesses into line" with other Australian business.

Mr Groenendijk told the BDT that it was his understanding that the decision affected five awards, including one covering the IT industry, and he did not envisage any other applications. He said Business BH had been running information sessions to help local businesses make the switch to new awards. "It's not just transitioning into a new award, it's transitioning into a higher cost," he said.

"It's not good for Broken Hill. We're not cash rich like we use to be ... we're an ageing population." Meanwhile the Barrier Industrial Council president, Danny O'Connor, said he was disappointed with Fair Work Australia's decision not to properly consider the BIC's proposal regarding a Country of Yancowinna Award. "It was quite clear after we left the hearing that it was going to be difficult to put up a County of Yancowinna award," Mr O'Connor said.

"Whilst we and other industrial organisations supported the SDA's application for a district allowance to cover workers in the County we are disappointed that the industries mentioned have lost the fifth week of their annual leave. "Nothing can properly compensate for the loss of one week's annual leave. "Once you lose conditions you never get them back."

Mr O'Connor said he believed the decision was made so as not to leave the door open to other areas also seeking additional allowances. "The BIC believes that even though BH is only a small area Fair Work Australia were not going to raise the standards and leave the door open to others in Australia to also seek a modern award to cover their area."

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