In Payroll & Employment by Clyde Mooney

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A prominent Sydney tabloid has attacked the Laundy group, particularly elected MP Craig Laundy, over a supposed conflict between long-defunct employee agreements and cuts to penalty rates.

The Daily Telegraph claims Craig Laundy, elected to the western Sydney seat of Reid in 2013, had workplace agreements at two of the family’s hotels “thrown out because it was unfair to workers”.

The agreements were said to have been “ripped up” by Fair Work Australia (FWA) “because the rates were significantly worse than the industry award”.

This attack was incongruously prompted by Laundy’s involvement in the Turnbull Government’s campaign to reduce penalty rates – as recommended by the FWA – when on Monday he was quoted as stating that all employees at the Laundy Hotel Group (LHG), of which he was a director, were paid according to award conditions.

Technically this was not correct, as between 2006 and 2012 both the North Wollongong and Harlequin Hotels, both owned by LHG, used ECA (Employee Collective Agreement) instruments in relation to some employees – 24 at the North Wollongong, and three at the Harlequin.

Group operations for LHG Nick Tindall, who managed the Harlequin at the time, says Craig had nothing to do with the agreements, made in accordance with Prime Minister Howard’s WorkChoices laws at the time.

“The ECAs were my initiative, and Craig Laundy didn’t know anything about them,” Tindall told PubTIC. “It’s unfair to involve him.”

WorkChoices was the name of the raft of changes made to Australia’s industrial relations laws in 2005, and encouraged employee groups to negotiate arrangements suited to their situation.

The ECAs put in place at the two pubs, under entities Laundy Exhibition P/L and Tinlaun, renegotiated penalty rates to better service full-time employees working during the week, and assist with broader employment of under-skilled staff – much like the argument in February’s release by FWA.

As was the way with these ECAs, they automatically expired after a given number of years, whereby they could be challenged and discontinued by any party, even just one employee.

Contrary to the implication the agreements were unscrupulous, they were not challenged by anyone and instead dissolved by FWA at the request of ALH, which had recently bought the leaseholds of the two pubs and wanted them under the same conditions as the rest of its several hundred hotels.

The determination by FWA to the application noted that the “Agreements have passed their respective nominal expiry dates” and that the Act requires it to terminate an expired enterprise agreement, providing it is “not contrary to the public interest to do so”.

AHA NSW director Phillip Ryan testified at the hearing on behalf of ALH, submitting that the Agreements were approved under the former WorkChoices legislation, and that employees would (now) be better off under the Award.

The two pubs were sold as part of the record-setting deal between LHG and ALH over 28 venues in June, 2012. The FWA hearing took place in October of that year.