Unless you’ve been living under a rock.. we’re sure you’re probably all aware, last weekend’s election has led to a change in Government.
Under a new Labor Government, Australian employers can expect a range of reforms to workplace law, with a particular focus on issues like job security, gender pay equity and wage theft.
While the final composition of Parliament is still to be determined, Labor’s election promises give us a fairly clear idea of the new Government’s agenda on these issues and what we can expect in the near future.
We break down some of the key issues on the new Government’s industrial relations agenda.
Firstly, job security is one key area in which changes, and reforms can be expected.
For example, the new Government has committed to enshrine secure work as an objective of the Fair Work Act. This change would require the Fair Work Commission to expressly consider job security in all of its decision-making.
At this stage, more details are needed regarding how exactly ‘job security’ would be defined or be applied in practice, including its interactions with other considerations in the Act or the exercise of managerial prerogative by employers.
Casual employees, gig workers and rolling contracts
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the precarious nature of job security for many Australians, including casuals and gig workers.
To address some of these issues, the new Government will be introducing reforms surrounding casual employment, gig workers and the usage of fixed-term contracts.
The new Government will amend the definition of “casual employment” by legislating an objective test to determine whether a worker will be classified as a casual employee.
These amendments would seek to provide casual employees with a clearer pathway to permanent employment based on their ongoing employment relationship, as opposed to the terms and conditions agreed at the commencement of the employment relationship.
Under these changes, the Fair Work Commission will be able to make orders for minimum standards for new forms of work, such as gig work, and to determine what rights and obligations may or may not apply.
Another issue which has been flagged is the usage of rolling fixed-term contracts.
The new Government has indicated that they will limit the number of consecutive fixed term contracts an employer can offer for the same role, with an overall cap of 24 months.
After this, an employer would be required to offer the worker a permanent position for the role.
Changes can also be expected in relation to labour hire, with the Labor Government promising to introduce two main reforms in this area.
This will include the “same-job, same-pay” legislation, which will ensure workers employed by labour hire firms receive the same pay and conditions as workers who are employed directly.
It’s currently unclear if “same pay” means the same salary or matching of various other entitlements that may be afforded to employees (including under enterprise agreements).
The new Government has also committed to a new national labour hire licensing scheme.
This would be like those currently in operation in certain States and Territories, under which all labour hire providers must obtain and maintain a licence in accordance with certain conditions (including reporting obligations, compliance with workplace laws).
We can also expect to see reforms regarding enterprise bargaining.
The new Government has committed to convening an “employment summit” which will “bring employers and unions together to collaborate on secure work and to ensure enterprise bargaining works effectively”.
It has also indicated its support for:
- giving the FWC broader powers to arbitrate disputes arising in the course of enterprise bargaining
- preventing the unilateral termination of collective agreements if employee entitlements will be reduced
- improving access to collective bargaining, potentially through multi-employer bargaining
Gender pay equity
Gender pay equity remains a serious concern in the workforce, and the new Government has indicated that it will lead a national push to help close the gender pay gap and increase pay for women workers.
For example, the new Government has committed to:
- strengthening the ability of the FWC to order pay increases for workers who are employed in low-income, female dominated industries
- fully implementing all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report 2020
- legislating for 10 days’ paid family and domestic violence leave as a National Employment Standard (NES)
- implementing legislation which would force companies with more than 250 employees to publicly report their gender pay gap publicly
- prohibiting pay secrecy clauses and giving employees the right to disclose their pay if they wish to
- taking action to address the gender pay gap in the Australian Public Service.
Gender equity will become an objective of the Fair Work Act, while the new Government will also establish two expert panels, one on pay equity and another for the care and community sector “to help improve pay and conditions for women in those sectors”.
The first will hear equal remuneration cases and the second panel will handle award cases relating to the care and community sector.
Wage theft, superannuation and entitlements
With wage theft in Australia receiving significant attention in recent years, it is unsurprising that this became an election issue.
The new Labor Government has committed to introduce legislation which will make wage theft a criminal offence and it will consult with unions, States and Territories and employer groups to ensure that federal wage theft laws will not override existing state and territory laws that are already in operation.
The new Government will also enshrine superannuation in the National Employment Standards, which means that workers would have the ability to directly pursue employers for unpaid superannuation.
A target is also planned for the ATO to improve the recovery rate for unpaid superannuation and will also examine super on paid parental leave.
Further considering entitlements, the new Government will consult with State and Territory Governments, unions and industry on developing portable entitlement schemes for annual leave, sick leave and long service leave for particular industries.
Portable entitlements would mean that workers can access entitlements like leave regardless of how they are employed, where they work, or if they change jobs.
These arrangements mirror current State and Territory frameworks in the construction, mining and cleaning sectors.
Akyra’s Key Takeaway
- Along with a change in Government, Labor’s election win will likely mean substantial changes to key industrial relations areas
- These changes will have significant impacts on employers across all industries and in some industries, for example construction, the changes are likely to lead to significant risks and challenges
- Employers should make sure they remain up to date on any industrial relations reforms and plan for the impact of these changes to try to mitigate some of the risks posed
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
Akyra can help your business to assist and support all your questions and concerns related to industrial relations and workplace law. Please contact Akyra on 07 3204 8830 or book a free 30-minute consultation for an obligation-free conversation.
Disclaimer – Reliance on Content
The material distributed is general information only. The information supplied is not intended to be legal or other professional advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or professional advice in relation to your specific situation.
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https://www.mondaq.com/australia/employee-rights-labour-relations/1193920/election-update-key-policies-of-the-labor-party-on-industrial-relations-reform, https://www.alp.org.au/policies/secure-australian-jobs-plan, https://www.claytonutz.com/knowledge/2022/may/federal-election-2022-the-new-labor-governments-industrial-relations-agenda-at-a-glance