On 1 September 2022 and 2 September 2022, the Australian Parliament will host the Federal Government's 'Jobs and Skills Summit' which will bring together politicians, business and union leaders to address shared economic challenges. Following the summit, an 'Employment White Paper' will be prepared which will likely be the blueprint for the Australian Government's workplace and industrial relations reform agenda.
With the jobless rate at a 48-year low of 3.5% in June 2022, businesses will be calling for reform to rules around skilled migration. Other voices at the Summit will target 'insecure work' which is typically associated with forms of employment other than full-time and part-time work such as gig-economy style employment, casual employment and use of successive fixed-term contracts. Criminalising wage theft and improving access to pay equity, particularly for women, will also be a focus.
Whilst much still remains in flux and the mechanics still thin, some of the potential changes on the horizon are as follows:
- amending the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (Act) to include 'secure work' as an object of the Act. This will require the Fair Work Commission to consider job security when exercising its functions as industrial umpire;
- varying the existing statutory definition of a 'casual
employee' in section 15A of the Act. It is anticipated this
would have the effect of overriding the recent
High Court of Australia decision in WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato (2021) 392 ALR 39 (see related article here) which reinforced the primacy of the contract between principal and contractor and was generally welcomed by business;
- making superannuation payable on parental leave and including a mechanism by which employees can more readily pursue employers for unpaid superannuation contributions;
- introducing a federal crime specifically targeting wage theft. We understand this will operate in addition to (rather than to the exclusion of) the existing state laws in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia;
- implementing the balance of the 55 recommendations from the Respect@Work Report published in March 2020, including introducing a positive obligation on employers, to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, sexual harassment, victimisation and sex discrimination;
- limiting employers use of consecutive fixed-term contracts without offering employees ongoing full-time or part-time employment;
- regulating gig-economy workers, potentially as a new 'mode' of employment;
- outlawing pay-secrecy provisions in employment contracts;
- enhancing the mechanisms available to achieve pay-parity between workers, particularly for women and labour-hire employees;
- creating a new 'national employment standard' for employees to take up to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence; and
- abolishing the Registered Organisations Commission (the Federal regulatory body for unions) and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (which enforces compliance with workplace laws in the construction sector).
This is by no means an exhaustive list of reform outcomes, however, the Australian Government's agenda is driven primarily by protecting and increasing the rights of employees. Any changes will have repercussions for employers and Australian working arrangements more broadly.