The Fair Work Commission has left the door open for workplace awards covering industries such as hospitality and transport to be overhauled.
The commission on Monday released its decision on the scope of a four-yearly review of the Modern Award system, which Labor in government created in 2010.
The commission will examine 122 modern awards as part of the review, covering a wide range of industries, including cleaning, hospitality, manufacturing, transport, mining and banking.
The review, due to be finished by mid-2015, will allow the commission to make decisions on varying award minimum pay and conditions.
Industry groups argue greater flexibility is needed in regard to part-time work and penalty rates.
The Abbott government has argued the commission should consider the softening economic environment and impact of employment costs when making its decisions.
But unions say the review needs to lead to better conditions for apprentices, improve rights for workers seeking to balance family commitments and set a base safety net of conditions and entitlements for casuals.
The commission said in its decision that the principle of a “fair and relevant minimum safety net of terms of conditions” could be broadly interpreted and depend on the industry to which it applies, as well as its historical context.
“There may be no one set of provisions in a particular modern award which can be said to provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net of terms and conditions,” the decision said.
“There may be a number of permutations of a particular modern award, each of which may be said to achieve the modern awards objective.”
The commission said some changes may be determined with “little formality”, but others will require a more substantial “merit argument”.
By law, modern awards can be varied if there is a “work value reason” for doing so.
Such reasons can relate to the nature of the work, the level of skill or responsibility involved and the conditions under which the work is done.
The commission will release a draft plan on how it will approach the review on April 14 and has scheduled a conference for May 13.
Labor workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the government’s involvement in the Fair Work Commission review process was a “dangerous cocktail for workers”.
“This government can’t help itself when it comes to undermining the pay and conditions of workers,” Mr O’Connor said through a spokesman on Monday.
He said the coalition’s policy of having an appellate jurisdiction over the commission would give that the power to overturn decisions of the full bench of the commission, including on the future of modern awards.
A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Eric Abetz said the minister encouraged anyone with a view on modern awards to make a submission to the review.
The commission’s review upholds important protections, ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons says.
“Anybody wanting to make significant changes to awards – for example, by reducing or removing penalty rates – will be held to a high standard of argument and evidence,” Mr Lyons told AAP in a statement.
The union also noted the commission’s acknowledgment that there is no problem with current arrangements which provide different award provisions to different industries.