The number of people covered by Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) has been overstated by Commonwealth estimates, according to a report released on the eve of the anniversary of WorkChoices.

The report was prepared by Griffith University Professor David Peetz for Industrial Relations Victoria, part of the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development.

Professor Peetz said the study found recently released Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed only 3.1 per cent of employees, equivalent to 258,000 workers, were on AWAs in May 2006. This compared to Commonwealth estimates of 538,000 at the time.

“The report also reveals AWA coverage in the state with the heaviest usage of the Agreements, Western Australia, has fallen by more than a quarter,” Professor Peetz said.

“It appears most of the movement out of AWAs in Western Australia has been among lower income earners.”


Professor Peetz said the report shows that, on average across the country, workers on AWAs earned 3 per cent less than workers on collective agreements. Outside Western Australia, the shortfall was 10 per cent.

“The two major sources of data on the gender pay gap showed a recent deterioration in women’s pay relative to men, especially in the private sector, with some or all of the gains over the previous decade being lost under WorkChoices,” Professor Peetz said.

“Women in permanent full-time jobs are working 1.3 more hours per week if they are on an AWA than on a collective agreement, but earning 5 per cent less per week,” said Professor Peetz.

“So when you look at their hourly wage, the shortfall for women in permanent full-time jobs on AWAs is about 8 per cent. For casuals it is 17 per cent.”

The report also revealed several business surveys found employers expected employees to be worse off as a result of WorkChoices, and there are hints in the official data that some new employees are facing lower wages than before, Professor Peetz said.

Professor Peetz said some commentators have blamed the poor productivity performance under WorkChoices on a surge of low paid, low productivity workers into jobs, which is incorrect.

“Job growth in lower-skilled, low wage occupations has been below the national average, and their share of total jobs has fallen. So they can’t explain the poor productivity outcomes to date.

“This does not necessarily mean that WorkChoices must be blamed, but if there were widespread productivity benefits from the greater use of AWAs, which have been in place for over a decade, we would expect to see clear signs of that by now.

“The overall impact of WorkChoices has been limited so far. Most workers still aren’t covered by agreements made under WorkChoices as many employers have been unwilling to take advantage of it, probably because of the impact on workers and productivity. Also the effects of several provisions in the law won’t be apparent for some years.”