Time for some sensible amendments to Australia’s workplace relations system

“Industry welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Australian Government intends to take a fresh look at reinvigorating Australia’s workplace relations system. A workplace relations system that operates efficiently and effectively for a modern economy at a time of significant change and challenge is crucial to Australia meeting the urgent need to improve our flatlining national productivity,” Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox, said today.

“The reality is that sweeping changes are not needed to overhaul the Fair Work Act. However, the way the Act operates has some clear deficiencies and some sensible and practical amendments are required to improve the way that the system operates for all parties.

“Key priorities include:

  • The uncertainties caused by the Federal Court’s Workpac v Skene decision about casual employment must be urgently addressed. A definition for the term “casual employee” needs to be inserted into the Fair Work Act, and the obvious solution is to adopt the Fair Work Commission’s longstanding award definition. That is ‘A casual employee is an employee engaged and paid as such’. This definition has stood the test of time, is fair, is consistent with industry practice, and is very widely understood and applied.
  • Steps should be taken to refresh Australia’s enterprise agreement making system and address current technical barriers. A key change is to implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendation that the Better Off Overall Test for enterprise agreements should be amended so that it applies to logical groups of employees rather than every individual employee. This simple and fair change would make enterprise agreement making a lot easier for all parties.
  • Another key issue is to stop unions siphoning off the investment earnings on workers’ entitlements in construction and electrical contracting industry redundancy funds. Why is this not ‘wage theft’? There is a glaring conflict of interest in board members of workers’ entitlement funds resolving to transfer money out of the funds and into the bank accounts of the organisations that appoint them to the board. The Government’s Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2017 addresses these issues, consistent with recommendations of the Heydon and Cole Royal Commissions. The Bill needs to be passed by Parliament without delay.
  • The Ensuing Integrity Bill is also important. This Bill is aimed at ensuring that registered organisations and their officers comply with the law. Organisations and officers who comply with the law have nothing to worry about from this Bill.

“These are priority areas for industry to renew confidence of employers in operations of the workplace relations system. The Australian Industry Group looks forward to participating in the Government’s consultation process,” said Mr Willox.

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