Australia: Key changes set to shape Australian workplaces in 2017

Services: People & Workplace
Industry Focus: Financial Services, Insurance, Life Sciences & Healthcare, Property

What you need to know

  • Several key changes affecting Australian workplaces have recently taken effect and another round of reforms are in the pipeline.
  • Some of these changes will have a significant impact on the way businesses manage their people and industrial relations issues, from the engagement of independent contractors to the administration of excessive annual leave balances.
  • All business leaders and people managers should be aware of the changes that lie ahead and be prepared to take action where and when it is needed.

Key changes to consider in 2017

New protections against unfair contract terms for independent contractors

The way businesses engage independent contractors will be impacted by the reform to extend the Australian Consumer Law protections against unfair contract terms to small business operators, which took effect in late 2016.

The new protections apply to 'standard contracts' entered into or renewed on or after 12 November 2016 where at least one of the parties is a small business that employs fewer than 20 people and the upfront price payable falls below certain limits. For more detail, see our previous article on the new unfair contract term protections.

Businesses that use standardised contracts with independent contractors who run small businesses are now at risk of having these contracts, or some of their individual terms, being declared unenforceable if they are deemed unfair. Businesses should review these agreements to determine whether they are subject to the new protections, and also ensure that affected agreements do not contain any terms which may be considered unfair, such as terms that permit unilateral variations or contain unreasonably wide indemnities.

New clause in awards to deal with excessive annual leave

A number of modern awards were recently changed to give employers the right to direct an employee with an excessive leave balance to take annual leave in certain circumstances.

On 29 July 2017 a new clause will come into effect entitling employees to notify their employer that they will take a period of leave. Employees covered by an award affected by the changes will be able to dictate when they take excess annual leave in limited circumstances if they are unable to reach agreement with their employer.

Tightening of rules for 457 visas

The time that 457 visa-holders can remain in Australia after their employment ceases has been cut from 90 to 60 days for visas granted on or after 19 November 2016. Businesses that employ skilled visa-holders should ensure compliance with these new restrictions, as sponsors can be liable for the removal of 457 visa-holders who overstay their visa.

As of January 2017, new 457 visa-holders who work in South Australia are also required to contribute to the cost of educating their children in government schools in that state. An equivalent obligation will extend to all 457 visa-holders across Australia from 1 January 2018.

New body to regulate union conduct

As part of the Federal Government's response to the corruption uncovered by the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, a new regulator will be established to oversee the governance of unions and employer associations. The regulator, to be called the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), will have a range of investigative powers that will be similar to those of Australia's corporate regulator, ASIC.

Under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2016, which is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2017, the ROC will take over some of the regulatory functions previously performed by the Fair Work Commission but will have wider powers to conduct inquiries and investigations. The changes are intended to align the regulation of unions with the standards that currently apply to companies, by introducing new financial reporting obligations and a higher civil penalty regime.

Re-introduction of the construction industry regulator

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is back, following the approval of the Federal Government's industrial reform agenda to re-establish the construction industry regulator late last year.

For the first time, new provisions which prohibit unlawful picketing have been introduced. These provisions are designed to capture conduct that disrupts the supply of goods, services and labour to building sites for the purpose of advancing industrial claims.

A new building code has also been issued which applies to all new tenders for Commonwealth-funded building work. All enterprise agreements entered into after 2 December 2016 must comply with the new code. Businesses covered by enterprise agreements made before 2 December 2016 will have until 29 November 2018 to ensure their agreements are code compliant. However, all businesses in the construction industry should review the new code and their agreements and arrangements with contractors to ensure they prepare for the changes during the transition period.

Potential changes in the pipeline

Broader powers for FWO to combat worker exploitation

As part of its commitment to protect vulnerable workers, the Federal Government is expected to introduce new legislation early this year to increase the powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). The Government intends to broaden the existing investigative powers of the FWO, which already enable it to conduct workplace inspections and require the production of records. The Government is also expected to create a new offence and penalties for providing misleading or false information to Fair Work Inspectors. A proposal to introduce ten-fold increases in the penalties, which can be imposed on companies that deliberately and systematically underpay workers, is also being considered.

While businesses should not need to be reminded that the exploitation of vulnerable workers is problematic, these proposed changes are indicative of how closely the issue is likely to be watched.

FWO targeting accessories to breaches of workplace laws

The proposal to increase the FWO's powers to investigate worker exploitation coincides with the FWO's recent focus on extending liability for breaches of workplace laws beyond direct employers, to capture head franchisors, directors, HR managers and others involved in the exploitation of workers. The FWO has made it clear that it will continue to push the boundaries in its use of the accessorial liability provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), following reports that it pursued accessories involved in breaches in 90% of the cases it lodged in court last financial year. For more on the FWO's increasing focus on worker exploitation, see our previous update.

In the wake of the hefty penalties recently imposed on the head franchisor of frozen yoghurt chain Yogurberry for its involvement in the exploitative practices of one of its franchisees, 1 all businesses should be turning a keen eye to the treatment of all workers in their networks.

Limits on government-funded parental leave pay

Employers that provide paid parental leave may want to reconsider the structure and benefits offered under these schemes if the Federal Government's proposal to limit access to government-funded parental leave pay takes effect.

The Senate is due to consider and report on the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2016 this month. If the Bill's provisions are implemented, government-funded parental leave pay will be reduced by the number of weeks of paid parental leave an individual receives from their employer. This means employees with 18 or more weeks of employer-funded parental leave will no longer be eligible for government-funded parental leave pay.

Be prepared to take action

It is clear that all businesses will be affected by these changes in some way.

This article is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this article. Authors listed may not be admitted in all states and territories

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.

Fay Calderone (formerly with DibbsBarker)
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”

Related Topics
Related Articles
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
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

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 or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq 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 of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions