The employment law and industrial relations system is undergoing
two major reviews at present, so while there have been no major
changes in the Fair Work Act and modern award system since late
2013, major change, or dispute about whether there should be major
change, again, is impending.
The major reviews are:
the enquiry by the Productivity Commission, as promised by the
Coalition in the 2013 election campaign; and
the 4 year review of the modern award system mandated by the
Fair Work Act.
The Productivity Commission enquiry into the Workplace Relations
Framework is intended to inform the Federal Government at a macro
level about the desirability of major changes to the Act and the IR
system generally. As the Government promised not to introduce major
change before the next election, the Commission's report is
expected to provide a basis for Government policies, to be taken to
the 2016 election so that the Government can obtain a mandate for
This will obviously be a highly sensitive issue in view of the
effectiveness of the anti-Workchoices in 2006 and 2007, and the
difficulties of the present government in getting public support
for difficult changes (let alone getting them through the
The Productivity Commission's brief is wide, with headline
issues such as penalty rates getting most attention. The Commission
is due to report by November this year (with a draft report issuing
mid-year), and information about its enquiry can be found by clicking
On the other hand, the 4 yearly review of modern awards, being
undertaken by the Fair Work Commission, focuses on the detail of
modern awards. Legislated in 2009 as part of the negotiations to
get the Fair Work Act passed, commencing in 2014, and continuing at
least well into 2015, the review is intended to iron out
inconsistencies and other issues which have come into view in the
operation of modern awards over the last 4 years. The FWC timetable
currently lists hearings into late May, so the exercise has some
way to go yet.
Apart from particular content issues (such as the detail of
award provisions which conflict with the National Employment
Standards eg about annual leave), the review is also considering
ways of making awards more user-friendly, such as simpler language,
more examples, and readily available supplementary information
which spells out what the NES say (so readers don't have to go
elsewhere to find this).
As the outcomes of both these processes come into focus,
we'll give you commentary on what changes are likely, and what
they mean in practical terms.
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.
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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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