Figures released by the Howard government's Workplace Authority on November 9 showed that almost half of the industrial agreements so far vetted by the authority since the government introduced its "fairness test" in May have been rejected by the authority.
The government's workplace "watchdog" announced that 26,833 of the 54,536 checked had failed to comply with the minimum standards and had been sent back to employers for re-negotiation.
PM John Howard announced the "fairness test" to quell public concern that under his Work Choices laws workers could have their penalty rates and other conditions traded away with nothing in return. Previously, Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and collective wage deals were checked only if employees lodged a complaint.
The test requires that all agreements must be vetted by the Workplace Authority to ensure employees receive penalty rates or "equivalent" compensation before they can be approved. Once deals are rejected by the Workplace Authority, employers have 14 days to fix problems or have them permanently canceled, with employees entitled to backpay.
The figures released by the authority also revealed an enormous backlog of 142,000 individual and collective wage agreements — almost 80% of all those lodged — are still waiting to be fully checked.
"The high number of wage deals either rejected or awaiting checks comes amid complaints from employers that the government's fairness test has become a bureaucratic nightmare", News Corp reported on November 10.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) spokesperson Ian Wilson told News Corp the fairness test was "a shambles", and the backlog of agreements proved the government's checking agency could not cope with guaranteeing workers received correct entitlements.
"Either employers are still unaware of their obligations or there are still many employers ripping off workers", Wilson said.
ACTU president Sharan Burrow said the fairness test had "been a lemon right from the start. It was invented as an excuse to run a dishonest TV ad campaign at taxpayers' expense and was never intended to be a serious attempt to deal with the unfairness of the government's Work Choices IR laws."