The Albanese Government’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill has just passed through the Parliament, meaning the first tranche of promised reform to Australian Industrial laws is now a reality.
This is the biggest reform to industrial relations in over a decade, so realistically it will probably be 12-18 months before we see some of the benefits flowing on from the new laws.
Here is what ETU and CEPU members can expect:
Improved access to bargaining to get wages rising
The Bill will improve overall access to enterprise bargaining, by allowing workers from different employers to bargain together if their employers have a “clearly identifiable common interest” such as a common geographical location or regulatory regime. For example, workers at short-term solar or wind farm projects may now be able to negotiate with their employer to sign up to an existing single-interest enterprise agreement. Previously the length of work projects like these would usually have been too short to engage in single-enterprise bargaining.
By improving access to bargaining, the Albanese Government hopes to get real wages (which have effectively fallen back to 2011 levels) moving again.
The abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)
The ABCC has wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money investigating and prosecuting unions and workers, hitting individual workers with more than 250 personal fines worth over $530,000 since it was reinstated in 2016.
Following the gutting of the Building Code earlier this year, the Bill abolishes the Code completely so that the BCIIP Act is now limited to promoting health and safety in the building industry. The Code was responsible for rules such as making it illegal to pay labour hire workers the same as permanent employees. It could impose fines on workers for wearing a union sticker on their hat, outlawed minimum quotas of apprentices or female workers on major government projects and forbade union organisers from speaking to workers on the job outside of a twenty-minute smoko break.
All remaining ABCC cases will be passed on to the Fair Work Commission, and the construction industry will be regulated like all other industries from now on.
Pay secrecy clauses will now be illegal
This change will bring transparency to workplaces and allow workers to tell someone how much they are paid without fear of retribution.
Better job security
The Bill will include the promotion of job security as an object in the Fair Work Act, meaning that job security must be considered when the Fair Work Commission makes decisions. It will also limit the rollover of fixed term contracts to two years, subject to some exceptions.
Better protection against sexual harassment and discrimination at work
This Bill will implement some of the recommendations of the Respect@Work Report, including introducing a broad prohibition against sexual harassment in connection with work. The prohibition is designed to protect all workers, including apprentices and volunteers. The Bill also expands the Stop Sexual Harassment Order jurisdiction to enable prospective workers to seek such orders, and enhances the Fair Work Act’s existing discrimination protections to include the attributes of breast feeding, gender identity and intersex status.
The Bill also includes the promotion of gender equity as an object of the Fair Work Act, meaning that gender equity must be considered when the Fair Work Commission makes decisions
Stop employers unfairly terminating agreements during the bargaining process
An employer can easily undermine the bargaining strength of employees by threatening to terminate their enterprise agreement – exploiting a loophole in the current Fair Work Act. The Bill will close that loophole and bring back fairness to the bargaining process.
Action on wage theft
The Bill makes a start on targeting wage theft by banning job ads that advertise wages below the minimum relevant award and making it easier for workers to use the small claims process.
There’s more to come…
The Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill is only the start of industrial law reform under the new government. Several of the ALP’s election promises, including ‘same job, same pay’, redefining casual employment, and criminalising wage theft, will significantly benefit ETU and CEPU members and are likely be included in the second tranche.