The introduction of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 has been some of the most extensive industrial relations change we’ve seen since the introduction of the Fair Work Act some two decades ago. It comes as no surprise that the Bill, which was introduced to Parliament on the 27th of October 2022, has received massive amounts of backlash from industry, business groups, and the Senate alike.
The Bill that set out to substantially change how Australian business’s structure and manage their workforce has been accosted for it’s unrealistic one-size-fits-all approach to industrial relations reform; and has been accused of undermining workplace sovereignty. With the onslaught of accusations and uproar coming in thick and fast, no sooner did the Labor government concede to pressure and start to backpedal.
So, what’s the big problem?
The most contentious issue for businesses and SME’s has been the Bills’ inclusion of legislated Multi-Employer Bargaining (MEB) which is based on a model of past success in European countries. Though in reality, the Australian landscape is far different from that of Europe, due to our unique award system and rigorous BOOT testing. From an economic standpoint, and for Australian businesses, the sweeping changes of MEB present a myriad of problems ranging from widespread strike action, decreased productivity, and a return to the wage system of the 1970’s which resulted in soaring inflation accompanied by stagnated economic growth, or ‘stagflation’, which put simply, is bad policy and bad news for business!
Is widespread change necessary?
The pandemic highlighted that Australia’s workplace laws weren’t suited to the rapid evolution toward on-demand work (also classed as ‘borderline employment’) such as Uber Drivers which fall outside of the current enterprise agreement. The Fair Work Commission determined that reform was needed to keep up with the changing climate and stepped in with the introduction of the new Bill. However, the wider implications of this Bill have resulted in complexity for businesses and SME’s across a whole range of industries, as well as creating unrest amongst employees and independent contractors. With widespread strike action on the horizon, Workplace Minister Tony Burke has announced that amendments will be made to the Bill to ensure that businesses and SME’s who didn’t want to be included in the industrial action can be excluded based on a majority vote.
Backpedalling on the Bill.
A more watered-down version of the Bill is proposed by Tony Burke after his consultation with employers and business groups late last week. It’s unclear what changes and amendments will look like, though topics currently being debated in the House of Representatives include:
- A majority vote safeguard requiring majority support from employees for a business to join a multi-employer bargaining agreement
- A six-month grace period before businesses will be subjected to multi-employer bargaining
- Delaying the ban on rolling fixed-term employment contracts for 12 months
- A minimum period of bargaining allowed and adhered to by the Fair Work Commission
- Exclusion of the commercial building and construction industry from MEB
The unsurprising backlash to the Labor governments’ overhaul of the Fair Work Amendment Bill has caused unrest amongst industry, business, unions, and employees – just to name a few. The rushed speed at which Labor implemented such critical legislation has highlighted numerous problems and overlooked considerations for businesses and the Australian economy as a whole. As Labor concedes and begins to backpedal on the Bill which experts say is “not in a fit state to be passed”, we are eagerly awaiting amendments that consider the implications to businesses.
Written by Molly Takle