Union Win for workers on wage theft, labour hire, industrial manslaughter and delegates!

We’ve had a huge win in our campaign to secure better wages and workers’ rights! Thanks to the pressure of people like you, the Albanese Federal Government (with the support of the Greens, Lydia Thorpe, David Pocock and the Jacqui Lambie Network) this month passed large parts of the Closing Loopholes laws.

This Bill is the third tranche of industrial relations reform the government is trying to introduce and is the most significant piece of legislation that will help drive up wages, improve job security and empower workers. Tranche one was passed in 2022 and tranche two was passed in June 2023. Read about what those laws included.

Here are the highlights from the new laws:

New rights for labour hire workers (same job, same pay)

Where a host employer is covered by an enterprise agreement, is not a small business and engages labour through a labour-hire provider, a union can make an application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order that applies same job same pay obligations. This means that the labour hire workers should receive the same rates as the host’s enterprise agreement. This is now in effect, so if you are an ETU or CEPU member engaged through labour hire and receiving less pay than the host employer’s enterprise agreement please contact your delegate or organiser. 

Criminalising and increasing fines for wage theft

The Act passed will criminalise wage theft, including not paying superannuation.

Enshrining rights for workplace delegates

From 1 January 2025, all modern awards and enterprise agreements will be required to include a term that provides for delegates’ rights. Delegates will have the right to represent union members’ rights, communicate with members about their industrial interests and have reasonable access to the workplace and facilities and paid time during working hours for the purpose of related training. Many unionised ETU workplaces already benefit from these rights, but they were not enshrined in law – they were fought for in enterprise agreements. These changes strengthen workers’ and delegates rights across our industries as a whole, making it easier to speak up and stand up for workers right, conditions and safety.

Action towards eradicating the scourge of silicosis

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency will also assume responsibility for safety and eradication in relation to silica. To reflect this, the agency will be renamed the Asbestos and Silica Safety and Eradication Agency. The Federal government also voted in December to ban manufactured stone benchtops containing silica, which is one of the key materials causing unsafe exposure to silica, and leading to silicosis. Read more >

Stronger workplace safety laws, including industrial manslaughter and better rights for injured workers

The changes will insert an offence of industrial manslaughter, based on conduct which breaches a PCBU or officers’ WHS duties, causes the death of a worker and is reckless or negligent about causing that death.

The new laws provide a presumption that where a (specified) “first responder”, who is covered by Commonwealth accident compensation legislation (i.e. Comcare), suffers from (or has suffered) a post-traumatic stress disorder, it will be presumed that the person’s prior employment as a first responder was the cause of their post-traumatic stress (unless the contrary is proven).

Protections for domestic violence survivors

The Fair Work Act’s anti-discrimination provisions prohibit employers from taking adverse action against workers for reasons such as their race, gender, caring responsibilities and other listed factors – and now that includes a person being subjected to family and domestic violence too.

Redundancy rights for those working in small businesses

The new provisions will ensure that employees are entitled to a redundancy if the redundancy occurs in connection with bankruptcy and liquidation if the employer is a small business, but is only a small business because they have previously terminated employees.

What’s next?

Big business campaigned hard and has spent millions to try and stop these new rights. But we were never going to give up.

The Government has also committed to finishing the job and passing the rest of the Bill early next year. This includes:

1. Better rights for casuals

2. Rights for gig workers on digital platforms

3. Better rights for truckies and those in road transport to stay safe

4. More support to stop wage theft

A huge thanks to all those who have generously shared their experiences and stories so far.

 We’ve made a huge amount of progress, and sharing our stories and our voices is clearly working – so now is not the time to stop. We must keep up the pressure until the rest of the Bill goes through!

This article was publised on 19 December 2023.