In December last year, the Albanese Government’s first tranche of major changes to workplace laws (titled ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay’) passed. Last week the second tranche of laws (titled ‘Protecting Workers’ Entitlements’) also passed. Job security and gender equality were included as objects of the Fair Work Act and the Modern Awards Objective, and gender equality was included in the Minimum Wages Objective. That means that any changes to these laws must take these new objectives into consideration.
Since then, the changes to workplace laws have gradually been coming into effect. Here are some of the highlights so far:
- Pay secrecy clauses are now illegal – so you can tell your colleague what you earn if you want to.
- Zombie agreements have been abolished once and for all. A zombie agreement is a collective agreement made under old legislation that continued to operate as it had not been terminated or replaced by another agreement until these new laws came in.
- Job ads advertising wages below the minimum wage or the relevant modern award are now illegal, and employers can be liable for a civil penalty if they breach this law.
- The anti-worker ABCC was finally abolished, restoring basic rights to workers in the construction industry.
- The Fair Work Act was amended to expressly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and workers will now have the option of initiating action in relation to workplace sexual harassment in the Fair Work Commission (FWC), in a state tribunal or court, or in the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
- Two expert panels concerning pay equity and the care and community sector were launched within the Fair Work Commission.
- The FWC can now deal with disputes where an employer refuses a worker’s request for a flexible working arrangement or request to extend their unpaid parental leave.
- Circumstances where an employee can request flexible work arrangements have been expanded to include situations where an employee, or a member of their immediate family or household, experiences family and domestic violence, as well as if the employee is pregnant.
- The Registered Organisations Commission (ROC)was abolished, reinstating powers to the FWC. The ROC spent more than $1.3million of taxpayers’ money conducting a witch hunt against unions which amounted to nothing.
This month most of the multi-employer bargaining reforms also came into effect, giving workers greater power to get wages moving again after a decade of setbacks.
- The next time you go to bargain your agreement, the process may be different. Now, workers from different employers can bargain together if they meet a number of criteria including that their employers have a “clearly identifiable common interest” such as a common geographical location or regulatory regime.
The new laws that come into effect won’t magically Increase pay. To make use of them will require strength in numbers and solidarity. By coming together across industries, ETU members may have a stronger ability to negotiate with employers.
Changes from the new Act still to come:
- A National Construction Industry Forum will be established provide advice to the federal government on a broad range of issues relating to work in the building and construction industry including workplace relations, industry culture, skills and training, safety, gender equity, and productivity.
- If you have an underpayment that is under $100k you will be able to bring it to the Federal Circuit Court – which is cheaper and less formal that the Federal Court.
- There will be a limit of two years on the term of any fixed or maximum term contract (subject to some exceptions).
Protecting worker Entitlements Bill
This is the second tranche of industrial relations legislation that passed on 22 June 2023. It includes the following changes.
- The number of flexible parental leave days has been extended from 30 to 100 days and there is improved flexibility on how they can be taken and shared between parents.
- The Bill clarifies that the fair work act protections apply to temporary migrant workers.
- The right to Superannuation will be included in the national employment standards, meaning it is now recognised as a universal workplace right.
- Casual workers in the black coal mining industry will have the same access to long service leave as permanent workers.