A preview of some of the probable implications of Labor’s Workplace Relations Plan. By Peter Maguire
There wasn’t a lot of talk about workplace relations in the lead up to the federal election and Labor’s intentions in relation to workplace relations wasn’t raised as an election issue.
Labor deliberately flew below the radar in this election and didn’t say much about changes that it would deliver other than the most popular ones – climate change, an integrity commission, Indigenous Voice and gender equality were the lead items. So I was somewhat surprised that the Coalition didn’t target workplace relations as a key point of difference between the major parties because it generally is and this year is no exception.
There was talk about convening a summit of business and union and government representatives to discuss reforms for our workplace relations system. Our new PM also leant his support to the case for the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to hand down this year’s Minimum Wage Review decision consistent with increases in cost of living and the recently released CPI figure of 5.1%.
But that was about it as far as workplace relations matters went.
What can we expect?
If you look at the workplace relations/employment policies on the ALP website, there are some big changes in the wings. In addition to the ALP’s majority in the House of Representatives, there are plenty of worker-friendly partners in both Houses of Parliament for them to get their proposed legislation through.
The central themes are around security of employment, equal pay, gender equality and security of workers’ legal entitlements.
Security of employment
Labor is proposing the following measures to improve job security for workers:
- Inclusion of job security as an Object of the Fair Work Act so that the FWC would have to consider job security in all of its decision making.
- Extending the powers of the FWC to make orders for minimum standards for new forms of work such as gig workers.
- Restoring the common law definition of a casual worker to undo recent Court decisions that placed primacy on the employment contract entered into at the start of an employment relationship rather than the character of the employment relationship during the relationship.
- Limiting the use of fixed term contracts for the same job to a maximum of two back-to-back contracts for a maximum aggregate term of two years.
- Reforming employment practices in the federal public service by only using non-permanent employment where it is essential and reducing the incidence of labour hire, outsourcing and back-to-back contracts.
- Introduction of a Secure Australian Jobs Code as a requirement for performing government funded work and government procurement.
Equal pay and gender equality
These measures are designed to make it more difficult to discriminate against women on an individual or industry basis.
- Introducing a requirement for employees engaged through labour hire to be paid the same as workers directly engaged by the host to do the same work.
- Legislating to require employers with 250 or more employees to publicly report on their gender pay gap and to abolish pay secrecy clauses and implementing all 55 recommendations of the Respect @ Work report.
- Legislating 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave for full-time employees (pro rata for part-time employees) extending the recent decision by the FWC to award-free employees.
- Strengthening the ability of the FWC to order pay increases for workers in low paid, female dominated industries.
Security of workers’ entitlements
Given the frequency of high profile wage underpayment cases, this was always going to be an area that Labor would target. Proposals include:
- Including superannuation as a National Employment Standard so that workers’ superannuation entitlements are better protected and can be pursued as a workplace right if underpayment occurs.
- Making wage theft a crime but not overriding current legislation in States or Territories (it is currently a crime in Victoria).
- Consulting on the development (where practical) of portable entitlement schemes for Australians in insecure work.
As expected, Labor will abolish the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission which were both primarily established to regulate unions and penalise unlawful behaviour by unions and officials.
So, there is a lot in all of this and there are major structural and commercial implications for businesses in a number of areas.
In the months ahead, employers will need to keep their eyes on how these items progress through the legislature and are implemented, and be ready to adapt their workplace relations practices accordingly.
Peter Maguire is the owner and practice leader of Ridgeline HR, an award winning HRM consulting practice which he founded in 2000. Peter is an acknowledged expert in workplace relations compliance and also a high-performance leadership coach with over 40 years’ experience in HRM. Ridgeline HR’s byline is Helping PEOPLE in BUSINESS and that is essentially what Peter does – help business people with their people business.