Already stretched HR, ER, WHS and Legal teams are about to confront a (seemingly) never-ending stream of law changes that will require cross-team collaboration to operationalise.

At a time when there are already broader economic and market challenges for businesses, leading employers will need to have sufficient resourcing and planning to confront the changes we know are coming.

To take some simple examples:

  • 1 April 2023 - Commonwealth and Queensland work health and safety laws were updated for psychosocial risk changes (continuing the trend of other similar changes recently in WA, Tasmania and NSW, but in the Commonwealth and Queensland requiring the hierarchy of controls).
  • 1 May 2023 - many awards were varied to incorporate new provisions dealing with business shutdowns - any business that relies on shutdowns (e.g. during holidays) will need to ensure that it has new processes in place to manage this for award-covered staff.
  • 6 June 2023 - there are new requirements for how employers must respond to an employee's flexible working request under the Fair Work Act 2009.
  • 6 June 2023 - a number of changes to bargaining processes, industrial action and putting an agreement to a vote come into effect. Any employer in bargaining needs to be across this to ensure the new steps are followed. Our previous blog posts here, here and here have explored these issues.
  • 7 June 2023 - new pay secrecy laws mean that contracts and any variations need to be compliant after this date.
  • 1 July 2023 - Northern Territory work health and safety laws will be updated to introduce psychosocial risk regulations (not requiring the application of the hierarchy of controls).
  • 1 July 2023 - the annual wage review will result in changes in national minimum wage and award wages on and from 1 July. Superannuation rates will also increase on 1 July.
  • 16 September 2023 - new time recording and overtime obligations apply for certain employees covered by the Professional Employees Award 2020. Again, employers will need to be across this to ensure that all contracts, time recording and pay procedures are in place for compliance.
  • 6 December 2023 - any fixed term contracts entered into, extended or renewed on or after this date are subject to new restrictions. From that date, it could be unlawful to extend, renew or roll over a fixed term contract.
  • 7 December 2023 - additional discrimination protections come into effect under the Fair Work Act 2009.
  • 12 December 2023 - the Australian Human Rights Commission will have new powers, including inquiring to and reporting on certain systemic issues and monitoring and assessing compliance with the new positive duty to eliminate sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Before that time, policies, training and procedures will need to have been updated, consulted on and implemented to ensure compliance.

This is not an exhaustive list of all changes. In addition, there is the broad reform agenda of 11 substantive potential law changes in the second half of this year.

Laws fundamentally changing casual employment, contractor arrangements, labour hire arrangements, discrimination protections and other issues could be proposed very quickly with potentially very significant impacts on business. We don't know when further details about this will be available, but it is very likely that many businesses will be forced to adopt changes to legacy arrangements that have worked well for many years.

These are only the first two tranches of the Commonwealth Government's proposed reform agenda. Given the broad policies for change that the Albanese Government has had since before it was elected, more can be expected after this. The Government has also foreshadowed changes to employer privacy obligations and State Governments are also proposing reforms.

The foreseeable future will be exhausting. The pace of change will be relentless. Businesses will need significant resourcing and the ability to engage senior leadership on technical, people, safety and legal issues to realistically assess impacts, opportunities and risks presented by these new law reforms, drawing on multi-disciplinary teams and expertise. There will be an ongoing period of uncertainty even after laws are passed while courts and tribunals grapple with how they will apply new legal tests, powers and discretions. Managing expectations and advance planning will be critical.

Every business needs to ask itself the uncomfortable question: are we ready?

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.