When we experience the rather hectic pressures of running a business and managing people, it can be so easy to take the foot off the HR pedal and fall into the ‘oversight trap’ about the basic essentials of management. No matter the level of responsibility, whether it be owner, manager, supervisor or employee, we can easily forget some of the important fundamentals for a smooth working relationship and happy workplace environment.

For example, the basics of our unique workplace relations system in simple terms can mean an employer’s common law obligations, such as:

  • To provide work;
  • To pay correct wages and salaries;
  • To provide a healthy and safe working environment; and
  • To treat all employees equally and fairly.

Managers and supervisors have not dissimilar obligations.

Likewise, common law obligations of an employee include:

  • To provide trustworthy service;
  • To obey all reasonable and lawful directions/instructions;
  • To not assist the employer’s competitors this would be during and, to a lesser extent, after leaving the employment;
  • To work in accordance with their skills and competencies and to take all care in the conduct of their tasks and responsibilities; and
  • To be accountable for the property of their employer.

The contract of employment operates under common law, statutory law as well as award or agreement provisions.

What is an Award?

An award is a legally binding document containing some or all of the working conditions for particular employees or groups of employees. Importantly, unlike the pre-reform period, modern awards are what are known as ‘minimum rates’ entitlements in that they prescribe minimum conditions of employment.

What is an Enterprise Agreement?

This can be extremely confusing, as the system has gone through terms such as Certified Agreements, Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), Collective Agreements (union or non-union) and now we have what are known as Enterprise Agreements and the need to bargain in ‘good faith’ with either your employee(s) and/or a nominated bargaining representative, e.g. a trade union.

Under the Fair Work system, if you have a pre-reform Certified Agreement, AWA or Collective Agreement which may have passed its ‘nominal expiry date’ it will continue in operation until such time as it is formally terminated by the Fair Work Commission on application by either the employer or employee(s) or replaced by a new Enterprise Agreement. This, too, can sometimes be confusing for both employers and employees, because the nominal expiry date is being read as the actual date on which a particular agreement expires, which is not the case as explained. It is essential that the base rate in such agreements must be equal to the base rate in the relevant underpinning award at all times.