Some of the biggest industrial relations amendments since the Fair Work Act was introduced in 2009 are being forged ahead by the Australian Federal Government. The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill will undeniably have a significant impact on how Australian employers set terms and conditions of employment moving forward, and this will in turn result in employers amending how they structure their operations and manage their employees.
Further industrial relations amendments such as the Same Job, Same Pay, are on the horizon for 2023 and will also have an impact on Australian businesses and the workforce.
At the core of it, the Bill is attempting to amend the workplace bargaining system, bridge gender pay gap, foster better job security and increase wages. One of the main concerns is that Australians are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living and that low-income workers in female-dominated industries haven’t been able to access the benefits of enterprise bargaining in order to bridge the pay gap. This is a key element of the Government’s plan to get wages moving and moving fast.
The changes to the workplace bargaining system would strive to get employers to bargain for an agreement that covers multiple employers. In many cases, employees covered by agreements tend to benefit from better terms and conditions of employment including wages. The move to get more employees on agreements is an attempt by the Australian Federal Government to bring life back into a languishing enterprise bargaining. As it stands, there are only 14.7% of the workforce on enterprise agreements and it is important to note that the single enterprise agreement will continue to be the most common.
Key points of the Bill
There are several amendments that are in consideration and the following are the most relevant in regard to this situation.
- Multiple employer bargaining – The Bill proposes that employers can be compelled to bargain for agreements that cover multiple employers. The ability of employers to remove themselves from these multiple-employer bargaining is limited, and employees have increased power as each bargaining representative must formally issue their consent before an agreement can be put to a vote.
- Arbitration in bargaining disputes – The Fair Work Commission (FWC) will have increased powers to intervene and make workplace determinations in the scenario of “intractable bargaining” disputes. The Commission will also need to be satisfied that a minimum period of good-faith bargaining has occurred before arbitration.
- Industrial action – Removal of limitations on protected industrial action and the addition of mandatory attendance to FWC mediation/conciliation before protected industrial action takes place.
- Pay secrecy – The Bill seeks to implement measures for better pay parity and provides the FWC with additional powers to make equal remuneration orders and explicitly exclude pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts. Employees would have the option of disclosing information pertaining to their remuneration package and speaking freely with colleagues regarding their individual contractual arrangements.
- Fixed-term contracts – Employees will no longer be able to be employed for more than 2 years on a fixed-term contract with some exceptions and businesses would be given 12 months in order to adjust to these changes.
- Flexible working arrangements – The Bill proposes additional rights for employees to request flexible working arrangements and requires businesses to provide reasons for the refusal of a request. Additionally, the Bill seeks new limitations to be placed on reasons for the refusal of a request and an increase in the scope for the FWC to arbitrate disputes.
- Termination of transitional instruments – The Bill proposes the termination of remaining transitional instruments preserved by the Fair Work Act 2009 (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments).
Other relevant features of the Bill
- Respect at work – The reinforcement of specific regulations to help prevent situations that could lead to any kind of sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Any form of discrimination – The inclusion of anti-discrimination provisions in the FW Act 2009 and the inclusion of attributes such as breastfeeding, intersex status, and gender identity in order to ensure that equality is achieved in the workplace.
- Abolishing the ABCC – The abolishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the FW Ombudsman to oversee workplace relations in the building and construction industry.
Next steps in this process
There is still a long road ahead for the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill and it is still subject to further changes. Not only that, but the Government has hinted at its receptiveness to further amendments upon further consultation. The Bill will likely change as it will need to be supported by Senators to pass the Senate.
The proposed changes are significant and will have a consequential impact on the employer and employee relationship, and the FWC will play a more involved role in setting the terms and conditions of employment. Employers will need to adjust to these changes in due course and clearly understand their new obligations once the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill is passed.
At HR Expertise, our team of HR Consultants provides HR Consulting in Melbourne and across Australia to help navigate you through the process, call us today if you need assistance, we would love to work with you.