The Guardian 17 August, 2005

Half-baked rip off

A national bakery chain has used non-union Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) to rip up to $3 an hour out of the wage packets of young Australians. Judge Peter McCusker of the South Australian Industrial Relations Commission found Bakerís Delight paid teenagers "grossly less" than award rates and said he was "troubled" that the federal governmentís Office of the Employment Advocate (OEA) had okayed the rip-off.

The Commission found at least 50 OEA-approved contracts had undercut the relevant award.

The finding was made after the court heard the case of a 15-year-old Deanna Renella who was paid 25 per cent less than the award minimum. Under current legislation, AWAs must not put employees at a disadvantage compared to their "overall" award entitlements. But unions have argued that the OEA has a "cavalier" approach to that safeguard.

Changes flagged by the federal government will do away with that requirement and see secret individual contracts judged against five minimum conditions.

They will also see responsibility for judging the acceptability of AWAs and agreements, shifted from the independent AIRC to the Howard governmentís OEA.

The South Australian court heard that not only was Deanna Renella underpaid, but she also had also been denied annual leave and sick leave entitlements. The court rejected a Bakerís Delight appeal and upheld an original ruling that it must back pay Renella.

Judge McCusker said young people were at a "manifest disadvantage" negotiating with experienced business people over awards.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said the case proved the government should scrap AWAs, especially for young workers.

"This is one of the most disgusting and graphic examples of how the governmentís AWAs are already used to exploit workers, particularly young people", Mr Combet said.

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