“Employers have every right to feel disappointed” – Amended IR Bill fails to deliver

Published March 18, 2021 (last updated January 25, 2022) -
IR Bill

After countless months working with employer groups, unions and businesses, the Federal Government’s Industrial Relations bill has fallen short of what it set out to achieve.

Employer-backed changes to enterprise bargaining, award simplification and greenfields agreements have all been stripped out of the bill in order to pass the Senate, with just one of the five provisions in the bill, measures that deal with casual workers, remaining.

“It was clear from the moment the Federal Government crammed in the introduction of the IR Bill before the Christmas break that it knew there would be issues passing it as it stood,” said Emma Dawson, Business Partner at Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor to more than 28,000 small and medium-sized enterprises.

“The fact it has taken more than three months of collaboration and watering down, to only end up with something that is a fraction of the original version, it was clear this was all talk.

“What we would have liked to see that would have greatly benefited small businesses is the simplification of Australia’s Awards system. Businesses, both large and small, have had to wade through an already difficult system to ensure they are doing things right by the book. Removing this from the bill will now leave business owners to tackle the same old issues.”

While the bill is now a bare-bones piece of paper, there are several silver linings that will greatly benefit employers as they look to claw back the losses they have suffered during the pandemic. Among the provisions removed from the bill is wage theft penalties.

Employsure has previously argued against introducing the penalties, which if passed, would have seen honest business owners who make a mistake when paying staff, run the risk of criminal action in the form of a fine or jail time. This provision never explicitly stated that making a mistake in pay would not be an offence.

What should have been added to the bill is a provision that could help employers avoid underpayments in the first place. As it stands, employers are now still left navigating a notoriously complex system.

Keeping a definition of casual employment in the bill, allowing employers rights to convert causal roles into permanent jobs, as well as a fix to ‘double-dipping’ backpay claims, is also welcome news for employers.

“There has never been a clear, legal definition of casual employment in the Fair Work Act before. What we originally assume to be a casual worker is subjective, and lacks any real sense of clarity if brought before a court,” continued Ms Dawson.

“These changes will help deny double-dipping claims by empowering employers to convert their regular and systematic casuals into permanent employees.

“Ultimately though, this bill has fallen short. The time and energy it took to come up with the bill in the first place, could have been better spent supporting SMEs with navigating the framework they are in, rather than going around in circles and ending up in the same spot.

“Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, this was a real chance for the Federal Government to deliver change to benefit and assist small businesses in their recovery. It has failed to deliver on this.

“With the end to JobKeeper just a fortnight away, employers have every right to feel disappointed.”


Further enquiries:

Matthew Bridges

[email protected]

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