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Industrial Relations Reforms Bill: What Do You Need to Know?

Published December 08, 2022 (last updated June 7, 2023) - ANZ Head of Legal Services

The landmark Industrial Relations Reforms Bill is now law.

On 6 December 2022, the Fair Work Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022 received Royal Assent.

Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke introduced the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022, which is aimed at closing the gender pay gap, expanding multi-employer bargaining and bringing in flexible rostering rights. The bill included workplace reforms and agenda established at the Jobs and Skills Summit. These industrial relations reforms will accelerate wage growth, particularly among working women.

This bill will usher in significant changes that will impact the working lives of many Australians.

What is meant by industrial relations?

In a nutshell, industrial relations refers to the management of any work-related obligations and entitlements that exist between employers and their workers. Ultimately, the aim of industrial relations is to promote fairness and productivity in Australia’s workplaces.

The Australian industrial relations system is a collection of legislation that applies to most employees and employers. It includes the Fair Work Act 2009, the National Employment Standards, registered agreements and awards. This legislation addresses a range of important workplace matters, including:

  • Wages and pay 
  • Trading hours and holiday 
  • Long service leave 
  • Workplace disputes 

Industrial relations reforms

The National Jobs and Skills Summit was held in early September 2022, and it provided an opportunity for key decision makers to convene and collaborate. It allowed them to explore the possibility of increasing productivity and sharing the dividends of this productivity between businesses and employees to promote wage growth.

The bill seeks to enshrine flexible working arrangements across the economy by empowering the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to step in when employees and businesses can’t negotiate efficiently.

Key among these reforms is a push to expand multi-employer enterprise bargaining.

The industrial relations reforms have been welcomed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which partnered with Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) on a statement championing multi-employer enterprise bargaining.

Key Facts

  1. The Albanese Government developed the bill in response to the outcomes of the National Jobs and Skills Summit
  2. The bill (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) is intended to help push wages up
  3. The bill enacts the biggest workplace law changes in two decades

What do you need to know about the industrial relations reforms?

Flexible work

Employees have started to adapt to the flexibility that working from home brings. However, employers are still keen on having employees fully on-site. This bill suggests that workers have benefited from flexible working arrangements, particularly working parents, those with a disability, carers, and those experiencing family domestic violence.

Flexible working arrangements requests are extended to pregnant employees and employees experiencing family and domestic violence.

Employers will have a greater requirement to discuss the request with the employee and come to a genuine agreement, including consideration of alternative agreements. Employers can only refuse on reasonable business grounds. Employees can apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to resolve any dispute regarding a request for a flexible working arrangement.

The reform is expected to dramatically increase the likelihood of employers and employees agreeing to flexible working arrangements, fundamentally altering the landscape of human resource management throughout Australia.

Prohibiting pay secrecy

The new laws mean employers cannot issue employment contracts including pay secrecy clauses. Any pay secrecy clause included in a new contract will have no effect and is a breach of the Fair Work Act 2009 which can result in civil penalties.

Employees have the right to share and discuss their remuneration information with co-workers and others and an employer cannot take action against an employee for doing so. However, a pay secrecy clause in an existing contract will be preserved until the contract is varied in anyway.

Anti-discrimination and special measures

Anti-discrimination protections have been extended to include breastfeeding, gender identity and intersex status.

Prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace

Prohibition of sexual harassment extends to workers, including contractors, subcontractors, work experience students, and volunteers, Employers can be vicariously liable for sexual harassment that occurred in connection to the workplace, unless the employer can prove they took all reasonable steps to prevent such conduct.

Do you understand the sexual harassment reforms?

Our FREE Factsheet helps you understand the reforms, and how they protect workers, prospective workers, and business owners from sexual harassment. 

Fixed term contracts

Employers now have limitations on fixed term contracts, including:

  • Fixed term contracts with a maximum of two years
  • Fixed term contracts with options to renew or extend more than once, or
  • Consecutive fixed term contracts extending the period for more than 2 years

There are exceptions to the limitations, including but not limited to types of fixed-term contracts for apprenticeships/traineeships, seasonal work, government-funded positions, and maternity backfill positions.

Multi-employer bargaining

The Industrial Relations Reforms propose to expand the existing industrial relations facilitating multi-employer enterprise bargaining. The reforms would make it easier for unions and employer associations to negotiate pay deals that cover multiple similar businesses. Businesses with a current enterprise agreement in place are excluded.

Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees are excluded, and there are hurdles in place for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Implications for small businesses

Industry groups have serious concerns about the implications for small businesses. The push for expanded multi-employer bargaining could force small companies to get entangled in time-consuming negotiations that place a strain on employee relations.

The laws come at a time when uncertainty is high and business owners are being crippled by inflation and staff shortages. Several groups and associations believe the reforms will create even more obstacles for struggling Australian businesses to navigate.

What should I do?

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay reforms will transform the Australian industrial relations system. We recommend you consult with employment relations experts before making changes.

Call Employsure on our 24/7 Advice Line today to get the guidance you need.

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