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Award change likely for legal profession

Briefs

Cite as: (2004) 78(10) LIJ, p. 14

Changes to the award structure of the legal profession are imminent in the wake of a union application to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).

The Australian Services Union is seeking a declaration that the profession be covered by an existing federal award, the Victorian Legal Professional, Clerical and Administrative Employees Award 2004.

At the time of writing, the application by the union was listed for mention at the AIRC on Thursday, 30 September 2004.

Under changes introduced earlier this year by the Federal Awards (Uniform System) Act 2003 (Vic) and the Workplace Relations Amendment (Improved Protection for Victorian Workers) Act 2003 (Cth), applications can now be made to the AIRC to declare that an existing federal award should apply as a “common rule” to all employers and employees in a particular industry in Victoria.

The effect of a common rule declaration is that the declared award will apply to all employees of a particular industry, whether or not their employers are named as respondents to the award. A common rule award will not, however, apply to employees who are already covered by a certified agreement or an Australian workplace agreement.

The costs of running a law firm would rise significantly if the award was declared to apply to the industry. While a number of law firms provide their staff with rates of pay and entitlements in excess of the minimum conditions outlined in the federal award, many others, including smaller and regional practices, would need to allow for higher rates of pay, including overtime and annual leave loading, and other employee entitlements if the award was declared to apply to the industry.

Therefore, it is likely that a number of firms will challenge the union application for the federal award to apply to the legal profession.

Until such time as a declaration is made by the AIRC, and at least until 1 January 2005, lawyers and clerical staff in law firms will remain covered by the Property and Business Services Sector.

The Law Institute will keep members informed of developments. Members are encouraged to view the provisions of the Victorian Legal Professional, Clerical and Administrative Employees Award 2004 at http://www.airc.gov.au/asawards/AW831581.htm.

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