Labor introduces final tranche of Industrial Relations reforms

Labor introduces final tranche of Industrial Relations reforms

Labor introduces final tranche of Industrial Relations reforms

The Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has tabled in parliament the final chapter in the government’s ongoing commitment to industrial relations reforms, particularly focusing on casual, labour-hire, and ‘gig’ workers and legislating for industrial manslaughter and wage theft.

In a recent media release, Minister Burke referred to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Changing Loopholes) Bill as legislation that “is about closing the loopholes that undercut pay and conditions for workers” and claims that the proposed legislation is the result of months of negotiations with various parties, including employer associations.

It is unclear whether the legislation will have enough support in parliament to be enacted.

Key aspects of the Bill include:

  • Introducing a new criminal offence for wage theft in situations where the employer’s conduct is regarded as intentional, with maximum fines of up to $8 million;
  • Creating, for the first time, minimum standards for workers in the gig economy;
  • Introducing an objective definition of a ‘casual employee’ in the FW Act to determine when an employee can be classified as casual;
  • Offering opportunities for longer-term casual employees to seek conversion to full-time or part-time employment;
  • Enabling the Fair Work Commission to make orders requiring labour-hire workers to receive the same rates of pay and conditions as contained in a host employer’s enterprise agreement.

Factors to consider in whether an employee is casual will focus on whether there is a mutual understanding or expectation between the employer and employee, whether the employee can elect to accept or reject work, the future availability of continuing work, whether other employees are performing the same work as part-time or full-time employees, or whether there is a regular pattern of work.

The Bill is also consistent with recent moves by the majority of state governments to make industrial manslaughter a criminal offence, with individuals facing jail terms of up to 25 years and body corporates subject to fines of up to $18m.

The complexity of a 284-page Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill and its 521-page explanatory memorandum is a product of the lengths the Federal Government has gone to achieve this social objective.

The government also proposes to significantly increase the penalties for Category 1 offences, which apply when workplace health and safety is found to have been breached through recklessness or criminal negligence, from $3m to $15m for body corporates and increasing jail sentencing for individuals from the current maximum of 3 years to 15 years.

Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023

For queries about the Bill, distinguishing casuals from permanent employees, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178, 1300 WAL LAW or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.

Ref: 385.0923

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