Handshake deals put commission-only payment in jeopardy

A real estate trade union is pushing for the removal of commission-only payment as a last resort if employee protections are removed.

The lead-up to a Fair Work Commission into the Real Estate Industry Award later this year has been plagued with interstate disputes over the registration of employment contracts.

However, a new union, the Australian Property Services Association (APSA) has declared that if their demands aren’t met, they will push for the removal of commission-only employment.

Speaking with Real Estate Business, APSA assistant federal secretary and Queensland branch secretary Barry Gannon said the current award for NSW, Queensland and South Australia works best.

“The current system has been a highly successful award for agents; it’s very flexible, it’s given them enormous scope to negotiate and we don’t need to see a change,” he said.

However, under the new national model all states must be uniform – but Victoria and Western Australia won’t play ball.

“In Queensland, NSW and South Australia, there is a requirement for a registered agreement setting out the terms and conditions of the commission-only employment," Mr Gannon said.

“Victoria and Western Australia have come out and said they’re not prepared to have these written agreements. They want to go back to a time when employees and employers could have a handshake agreement.

“Unfortunately, our experience has shown us that when handshake deals are made, quite often they’re not lived up to.

“Because they’ve said that, this matter has to come before the Fair Work Commission and if there’s not going to be a continuation of registration of agreements as there is for a majority of the industry, then we’re going to have to protect our members.”

The drastic ‘last resort’ measure of abolishing commission-only arrangements has been met with heavy criticism, with unlimited earning potential one of the main attractions of the industry.

But even with current requirements, many sales agents are on handshake agreements with their employers.

“They’ll say ‘I’ve known Joe for 10 years, he wouldn’t do that to me’. But when you leave, the boss who you think is a really good person could turn around and refuse to pay you what you’re owed because there’s no document to support you,” said Mr Gannon.

While APSA has only existed since March 2014, the body has been created from the amalgamation of the only two federally-registered employee associations for property professionals - the Property Sales Association of Queensland (PSAQ), and the Real Estate Association of NSW (REA NSW).

Other measures APSA aren’t afraid to push for if employees aren’t protected in commission-only agreements include a 38-hour Monday to Friday week with penalty rates for weekend and evening work.

While these are standard across other awards, Mr Gannon said real estate has had the luxury of being treated as a unique industry.

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