In a long-running project spanning more than seven years, the Fair Work Commission has now foreshadowed that its ‘plain language’ re-drafting project is close to completion, albeit that there are still a few modern awards to be put through the process in the coming months.
Background to the project
The Plain Language Project commenced in 2015 and arose out of the Commission’s 4-yearly review of modern awards, which involved, as a part of that review process, a restructuring and standardisation of various clauses across the modern awards system.
The Pharmacy Industry Award was the original ‘pilot’ award, with an external ‘plain language drafting’ expert engaged to produce a plain language version of the Award in consultation with relevant parties.
Given the success of that pilot, the Commission then rolled-out the plain language re-draft to at least eight other key modern awards, including the:
- Clerks-Private Sector Award
- General Retail Industry Award
- Hospitality Industry (General) Award
- Restaurant Industry Award
- Cleaning Services Award
- Fast Food Industry Award
- Hair and Beauty Industry Award
- Security Services Industry Award.
A few other modern awards (the Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award, the Building and Construction General On-site Award, and the Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award) have also been put through a modified plain language ‘light touch’ process.
At the time, the Commission stated that the objective of the Project was to “produce redrafted modern awards that can be read by an employer or employee without needing a history lesson or paid advocate to interpret how the award applies in the workplace”.
In selecting the awards for attention, the Commission took into account the number of employees and employers covered by each award, as well as the incidence of small businesses covered by the award, given they are less likely to have dedicated HR teams to assist with interpreting awards.
And while only a minority of modern awards have benefitted from a complete plain-language overhaul, the reach of the Project has been far wider, with a range of common clauses being re-drafted in plain-language and then rolled-out across all awards. For example, most of the modern awards have seen:
- changes to the structure and sequence of the award to reflect an employment ‘life cycle’ structure (from ‘hiring through to firing’)
- the re-drafting of standard clauses found across awards (such as consultation, dispute resolution, award flexibility, termination of employment, redundancy, leave and facilitative provisions)
- the inclusion of various pay rate tables (avoiding the need for users to undertake their own calculations).
These changes should remove some of the complexity from those modern awards, however users of modern awards that were not part of the full plain-language overhaul will likely need to continue grappling with complex provisions while looking longingly across to those new plain language awards.
Pleasingly, the Commission has confirmed that it intends to undertake a plain language re-draft of three final awards, being the:
- Children’s Services Award
- Aged Care Award
- Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award.
For businesses in those industries, this will likely be pleasing news.
ABLA will be heavily involved in the plain-language re-draft of these awards, so feel free to contact us if you wish to provide any feedback on your experience with administering those awards.