Another federal election campaign is almost upon us, with expectation for a 14 May poll date building. For industrial relations practitioners, this often means that it is time to brace for impact. IR is almost always a hot topic in politics, with each major party having different views on how workplaces and employment relationships should be regulated. Law reform is almost always on the agenda in the lead up to an election.
Anyone listening to the Leader of the Opposition’s address at the National Press Club on 25 January would be forgiven for thinking that this time IR reform is not going to be a key focus for the ALP should it form government following the election. Apart from a few references to “more secure jobs” and “better wages and conditions”, IR policy barely received a mention.
However, it would be wrong to think that an ALP federal government would not pursue significant IR reform, if elected.
Our team at Herbert Smith Freehills has been tracking press releases, policy statements and public comments by the ALP (and the ACTU) over the last few years. If you follow through this material, it is reasonably clear that IR reform will feature prominently in the ALP’s law reform agenda. There is already quite a bit of detail to help us understand what “more secure jobs” and “better wages and conditions” might mean under an ALP federal government.
In this article, we will attempt to summarise what we see as being the key areas of proposed law reform in the event that the ALP wins government later this year.
Areas of Reform
Improving job security has long been an objective of the ALP and the union movement generally. This time the issue could attract more political relevance. Expect to hear the issue of ‘insecure’ work tied in together with the lessons of the pandemic. It has been widely reported that casualised workforces helped the virus spread as too many workers had no access leave entitlements. By drawing this connection, the objective of discouraging non-permanent working arrangements may receive broader public appeal than it has in the past.
In pursuit of this goal of ‘more secure jobs’ some likely proposed reforms will be:
In short, the use of casual and short-term employment will likely become more restricted, and the use of indirect labour will, in some cases, become more costly and administrative burdensome.
Better wages and conditions
Promising better pay for workers is a common (and popular) political message. Whilst this election may not be described as a “referendum on wages”, as it was last time, we can still expect to hear a lot about addressing wage stagnation and enabling pay rises for workers.
To this end, the ALP will pursue policies such as:
In addition to the above, we also expect that the ALP will also pursue policies aimed at:
On any view, these reforms would be significant for Australian businesses.
Whatever one thinks of the merits of any of the above policies, it is unavoidable that employers will need to further invest in their labour models, systems of compliance and workplace relations strategies regardless of who takes up residence in the Lodge in 2022 and beyond.
Launch of Federal Election Campaign
To help you stay up-to-date on these (and many more) potential reforms, the team at Herbert Smith Freehills will publish a series of insight pieces, podcasts and more examining the practical impacts for businesses of both parties’ policies. These resources will remain available on HSF’s Australian Federal Election Hub.
We hope our hub can assist in presenting a clear and independent view of the practical impact of the proposed changes. We will continue to update the hub as the new reforms are proposed in the lead up to the election.