At the end of 2020, the Federal Government introduced two new bills to amend the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act):
- Fair Work Amendment (Ten Days Paid Domestic and Family Violence Leave) Bill 2020 [No. 2] (Cth) (DFVL Bill); and
- Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 (Cth) (SAJER Bill).
The DFVL Bill – key changes
The DFVL Bill proposes to improve the existing entitlements of the National Employment Standards of the FW Act so that:
- employees who experience domestic and family violence can receive 10 days of paid leave;
- there is clarification regarding how employees who use this leave are to be paid; and
- confidentiality provisions of the FW Act are tightened.
|Key proposed amendments to FW Act|
|Current provisions in FW Act||Proposed amendments|
|5 days of unpaid domestic and family violence leave||10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave in a 12-month period|
|An employer and an employee can agree that the employee can take more than 5 days of unpaid domestic and family violence leave||An employer and an employee can agree that the employee can take paid or unpaid leave in addition to the 10 days of paid domestic and family leave|
|An employee's entitlement to domestic and family violence leave under the FW Act is currently unpaid, there is no specification as to how employees would be paid for this leave.||
An employer must pay employees who take a period of domestic and family violence leave as follows:
|Employers must take steps to ensure information regarding an employee taking domestic and family leave is treated confidentially, 'as far as it is reasonably practicable to do so.'||
The 'as far as it is reasonably practicable to do so' section is removed, so employers must take steps to ensure information regarding an employee taking domestic and family leave 'is treated confidentially.'
It is also proposed that employers should consult with employees regarding handling information about an employee's experience of family and domestic violence due to the sensitive nature of the information.
The SAJER Bill – key changes
The SAJER Bill proposes to 'improve the operation and usability of the national industrial relations system' by making a number of changes to the FW Act, including:
- providing a definition of a 'casual employment', to give certainty to businesses and employees about casual employment;
- giving regular casual employees a statutory pathway to convert their employment to full-time or part-time employment;
- giving part-time employees the option to work additional hours by agreement with their employer;
- giving employers the power to direct employees to perform certain duties within their skill set and at certain locations outside of their normal duties or place of work;
- amending the enterprise agreement provisions of the FW Act to improve the enterprise agreement making and approval process;
- expanding powers of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to make decisions during proceedings; and
- making systematic underpayment a criminal offence.
The proposed amendments to the casual employment provisions of the FW Act, particularly the inclusion of a definition of 'casual employment' is the Federal Government's response to the decision in WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato  FCAFC 84.
The High Court of Australia will hear an appeal of this decision some time in 2021. If the SAJER Bill is passed, it is unlikely the enacted legislation will have any impact on the High Court's decision in Rossato.
|Key proposed amendments to FW Act|
|Proposed amendments||Details of amendments|
|Definition of 'casual employment||
In response to the uncertainty created by Rossato, the Bill proposes to insert a definition of casual employment in the FW Act.
Under the changes a person is a casual employee if an employee accepts an offer of employment made by the employer to the employee if it is made 'on the basis that the employer makes no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work for the person.'
Whether there is a firm advance commitment by an employer to continue indefinite work will be determined based on whether the employment is described as casual employment and whether the employee:
This will be assessed only based on the offer of employment and not any subsequent conduct by either party.
|Casual conversion requirements||
Under the proposed changes an employer must make a written offer
to a casual employee to convert their employment to full-time or
part-time employment if they have been employed for 12 months and
for the last 6 months have been working a regular pattern of hours
on an ongoing basis.
|Casual Employment Information Statement||Employers will be obligated to give each casual employee a Casual Employment Information Statement prepared and published by the Fair Work Ombudsman as soon as practicable after the employee starts employment as a casual employee.|
This section is relevant to situations where employees who were intended to have been employed as a casual employee but are subsequently found not to be casual employees and have sought orders from the Courts to be paid entitlements under the FW Act.
This section proposes to grant the Courts the power to 'offset' by ordering the employee's claimed amount to be reduced by any casual loading which they have received.
|Simplified additional hours agreements||
This section proposes that an employer and a part-time employee whose employment is subject to identified awards may enter into an agreement for the employee to work additional hours, called a 'Simplified Hours Agreement'.
|Flexible work directions||
This section proposes additional flexibilities for some awards covering industries most affected by Covid. An employer will be able to give an employee:
The directions are subject to being safe, the employee having the necessary qualifications to perform the duties and the duties being reasonably within the scope of the employer's business.
Before giving the direction, an employer must consult with the employee by giving written notice of the employer's intention to give a direction.
|Streamlining enterprise agreement making process||
The object of the amendments is to make the process of creating and approving agreements easier, faster and fairer for employers and employees, by:
|Advertising rate of pay for employment||This section proposes a new civil remedy provision prohibiting an employer from advertising employment which specifies a rate of pay that is less than the national minimum wage.|
Employers will be prohibited from dishonestly engaging in a systematic pattern of underpaying one or more employees, which may result in:
|Expanding the powers of the FWC||
This section proposes to expand the FWC's powers to dismiss an application on its own initiative or on application if it has not been made in accordance with the FW Act.
The FWC can then order that the applicant must not make a further application to the FWC without permission of the FWC.
It is also proposed that the FWC powers to decide an appeal without a hearing be expanded on the basis that the FWC has taken into account the views of persons who would otherwise have made submissions at a hearing.
On 10 December 2020, the Senate Selection of Bills Committee referred the Bill to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 12 March 2021.
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.