The Fair Work Bill has passed through the Senate, after the Government reached an agreement with Senator Steve Fielding on phasing-in its definition of small business for unfair dismissal purposes.

The deal means the Government can stick to its timetable of having its key IR changes – including to unfair dismissal and bargaining – operational on July 1, while the modern awards system and the NES will take effect from January 1 next year.

Under the agreement with the Family First senator, which will be implemented via amendments he will move to the transitional and consequential bill the government introduced, small businesses will be defined as having fewer than 15 employees on a full-time equivalent basis from July 1 this year, with the government’s original definition of fewer than 15 on a headcount basis taking effect 18 months later on 1st January 2011.

The number of full-time equivalent workers will be calculated by averaging the ordinary hours worked by all employees in the business over the four weeks prior to the employee being sacked and dividing that by 38 (ordinary weekly hours).

Unions say that while this removes another hurdle, it is yet another watering down of worker protections and one that is likely to cause arguments over interpretation and application.

Many unionists are questioning the appropriateness of making deals with Family First in the first place given that Steve Fielding only polled less that 2% of the primary count and only holds a seat through preferences.

The death of WorkChoices also sees the death of all AWA’s and ITEA’s.

ITEA’s will cease to operate from December 31st this year and no new AWA’s may be lodged any more.

Also gone will be distinctions between Union and non Union deals with all new agreements being simply “employee collective agreements”.