Australia: Get ready: These are the workplace relations issues to watch in 2014 - 15

The Abbott Government has put workplace relations front and centre of its first term reform agenda. Here's our guide to the issues that will dominate the industrial relations landscape in 2014-15.

The coming year will see the Government continue to pursue its workplace reform agenda as set out in the 2013 "Policy to Improve the Fair Work Laws". The policy outlines the Coalition's proposed changes to the Fair Work Act and construction industry legislation, its flagship paid parental leave scheme and plans to have the Productivity Commission undertake an extensive review of the legislation in the Coalition's first term of government.

The Productivity Commission Review will provide the central focus for the debate over workplace policy in the lead-up to the next federal election. In the meantime, the Government faces challenges getting a number of IR reform bills through the Senate.


The key changes to the FW Act contained in the Government's Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 are:

  1. Simpler processes for greenfields agreements for genuine new businesses, projects or undertakings. The amendments respond to employer concerns that unions exercise veto powers over these agreements (particularly on large resources and construction projects), adding to project costs and causing delays. Greenfields agreements would be made subject to the good faith bargaining rules, and employers could seek Fair Work Commission approval of a proposed agreement if no deal is reached after three months of negotiations.
  2. Providing employers with easier access to individual flexibility arrangements which can be used to vary award or agreement conditions relating to hours of work, overtime, penalty rates, allowances and leave loading. IFAs would be terminable unilaterally after 13 weeks (rather than 5 weeks at present), and non-monetary benefits could be considered in assessing the fairness of an IFA.
  3. New restrictions on union rights of entry onto employers' premises, including a requirement that entry for purposes of holding meetings with members or prospective members would depend on a union being covered by an enterprise agreement applicable to work performed at the workplace; or the union being invited into the workplace by a member or prospective member. Recent FW Act amendments requiring employers to facilitate union access to remote worksites, and designating lunchrooms as the default location for workplace union meetings, would be repealed.
  4. Preventing unions from taking protected industrial action in support of claims for a new enterprise agreement before bargaining has actually commenced.
  5. Amendments to clarify certain National Employment Standards entitlements, simplify the process for FWC dismissal of unmeritorious unfair dismissal claims, and facilitate easier transfers of business between associated entities.


The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 seeks to restore the rule of law and a tougher compliance regime in this highly adversarial sector. The Australian Building and Construction Commission will be re-established with its former investigative and enforcement powers. The Bill also expands the scope of the construction legislation to include the transport or supply of goods to building sites and offshore resources platforms; and introduces significant new limits on unlawful industrial action in the building industry (including a new prohibition on unlawful picketing).

In April 2014, the Government released its proposed Building and Construction Industry (Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code. The new national Code includes a wide range of prohibitions on enterprise agreement content, which will apply to agreements made on and from 24 April 2014.


The Government's proposed PPL scheme is scheduled to commence on 1 July 2015. It offers the primary carer of a new-born child 26 weeks' pay at the employee's actual wage (subject to a cap of $100,000 per annum). In comparison, the current PPL scheme provides 18 weeks' leave at the national minimum wage.

However no legislation has yet been introduced into Parliament, and at present the future of the PPL scheme is uncertain as the Government seeks support from the cross-bench senators for the 2014-15 federal Budget.


The Coalition Government's prospects of passing legislation have improved since 1 July 2014. Instead of Labor and the Greens being able to combine to block proposed laws, the Government now needs the support of six out of the new Senate's eight independent and minor party senators to secure the passage of legislation.

Although it is very difficult to be confident, we anticipate majority support for the Government's amendments to the Fair Work Act and the Building and Construction Bill. However, almost all of the cross-bench senators have publicly opposed the expanded PPL scheme.


Once the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 is passed by Parliament, the Government will focus on the remaining measures in its 2013 Workplace Relations Policy. These include:

  • expanding limits on the taking of protected industrial action: it will have to be preceded by genuine and meaningful discussions over a proposed enterprise agreement – and will only be permitted in support of sensible and realistic claims; and
  • requiring the FWC to ensure, when considering whether to approve an agreement, that productivity issues have been considered in the agreement negotiations.

Pressure will no doubt build on the Government to introduce further reforms to the FW Act. Employers will increase their lobbying over amendments to address the burden of award penalty rates; the central role of unions in enterprise bargaining; and the growing numbers of unfair dismissal and general protections claims. However, further major changes are unlikely until the Productivity Commission concludes its review of the workplace relations framework.


The Government's draft terms of reference for the PC Review, leaked to the media earlier this year, indicate the Commission will investigate and make recommendations on a wide range of matters, including:

  • the effects of the FW Act (and associated legislation) on the wellbeing, productivity and competitiveness of Australia and its people;
  • the impact of the current workplace relations framework on matters such as employment levels, the ability of business and the labour market to respond appropriately to changing economic conditions, and the ability of employers to flexibly manage and engage with their employees;
  • how Australia's workplace laws could be improved to maximise outcomes for all stakeholders, ensuring appropriate protections for workers, the need for businesses to be able to grow and prosper, and the need to reduce unnecessary regulation.

Almost six months has elapsed since these draft terms of reference were leaked and yet the PC Review has not yet commenced. The Government has rejected suggestions that it has delayed the Review in order to focus on "selling" the 2014-15 Budget; and has repeated its commitment to completing the review in time to take any recommendations to the federal election in 2016.

Once the PC Review does get underway, it will become a major focus of the IR reform debate in Australia over the next 12-18 months. Given the Productivity Commission's apparent openness to labour market reform, its Review is likely to result in more far-reaching recommendations than the 2012 FW Act Review.

That said, employers will need to make detailed submissions to the PC Review and contribute to the public debate which occurs alongside it, to make out the case for substantive changes to the current workplace relations system.


Overall, the Government is being very careful in its first term of office not to intrude upon the individual rights of workers in a way that could invite a "return to Work Choices" scare campaign by unions and the Federal Opposition. The Coalition's main focus is to clamp down on illegitimate union activity, currently the focus of the Royal Commission on Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

The Government has also put forward several measures to keep its employer constituency satisfied for the time being. However, pressure for more substantive legislative reforms will build as the next Federal election draws nearer. The IR debate will play out with the upcoming Productivity Commission review as its main focus in 2014-15.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Most awarded firm and Australian deal of the year
Australasian Legal Business Awards
Employer of Choice for Women
Equal Opportunity for Women
in the Workplace (EOWA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.