Australia: Key changes to workplace laws take effect

In brief - Employers need to be aware of a range of changes to workplace laws that commence on 1 July 2019, and should seek advice if unsure of their obligations. Civil penalties apply for non-compliance.

The five key changes are:

  1. Whistleblower laws

New whistleblowing laws apply to all "regulated entities" in the private sector. Any employer considered to be a "public company" or "large proprietary company" (a broad definition) will be required to have a compliant whistleblower policy in place by 1 January 2020.

The laws will allow whistleblowers to make protected disclosures about "misconduct, or improper state of affairs or circumstances" within an organisation. Examples include insider trading; insolvent trading; fraud; failure to comply with statutory accounting and reporting requirements; money laundering offences; offences involving terrorism financing; activity that exploits loopholes in the law to harm the administration of government programs; and contravention of any law of the Commonwealth.

All employers should seek advice about whether their organisation is captured by the whistleblower laws. In some case, the laws may even apply to not-for-profit organisations.

  1. Minimum wage increases

The Fair Work Commission Minimum Wage Panel recently determined that from the first full pay period after 1 July 2019:

  • Minimum rates of pay for adult full-time employees covered by modern awards will increase by 3%.
  • The national minimum wage for an award-free adult employee will increase to $740.80 per week, or $19.49 per hour.

The decision also impacts allowance and expense amounts referred to in modern awards.

  1. Casual loadings

The casual loading in modern awards will remain at 25 per cent. It is important that employers carefully examine casual working arrangements and separately identify casual loading amounts from base rates of pay in contracts of employment and payslips, to comply with the reasoning in the WorkPac Pty Limited v Skene [2018] FCAFC 131 decision.

  1. Enterprise agreements

Employers who have an enterprise agreement in operation (even if it has passed its nominal expiry date) must ensure that the base rate of pay in the agreement does not result in any employee being paid less than the relevant modern award pay rate or, if no award applies, the national minimum wage.

  1. Increase to the high-income threshold and compensation limit

From 1 July 2019:

  1. The high-income threshold increases from $145,400 to $148,700. This amount affects how a modern award applies to an employee, and affects an employee's access to the unfair dismissal jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission.
  2. The compensation limit under unfair dismissal laws also increases from $72,700 to $74,350. The compensation limit is the maximum compensation available to an employee successful in an unfair dismissal claim.

Fair Work Ombudsman audit highlights problem with non-compliance

A recent FWO audit of more than 1,385 businesses in regional Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria shows that non-compliance with workplace laws is at "unacceptable" levels. Details released show more than one in five (22%) employers failed to pay their employees correctly.

Employers who fail to comply with any of the obligations outlined above may face a civil penalty, with the maximum penalty being $63,000 per breach.

Paul O'Halloran
Workplace relations
Colin Biggers & Paisley

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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