On 4 September 2023, the Federal Government introduced the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 (Cth) (Bill) in the House of Representatives.
This Bill is significant, running to 278 pages and covering 28 distinct parts. It proposes reforms that will have a substantial impact on employers, employees, principals, and contractors. In many respects, the Bill proposes even more significant change than was contained within the pages of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay amending legislation which commenced on 6 December 2022.
The Bill is a clear indication of the Federal Government’s continuing robust agenda for industrial relations reform.
The Government has indicated that it expects the Bill to remain before the House of Representatives for a full 4-week period to allow time for debate on the Bill, prior to using its majority in the House of Representatives to elevate the Bill to the Senate. The Senate has referred the Bill to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. The Committee will hold public hearings and seek stakeholders’ submissions to provide feedback on the Bill and is required to report back to the Senate by 1 February 2024. Following the release of the report, the Government will re-introduce the Bill to the Senate which may take some weeks or months to pass the Bill. The Senate must also consider any amendments proposed by the Government, Opposition or cross bench. HSF will keep across any developments about the Bill as it moves through the legislative process.
Summary of the reforms
Our full summary provides an overview of the key elements of the Bill and what it means for Australian employers.
Our thoughts on the top 5 likely implications of the Bill are as follows:
- Compliance costs for business will increase. This is an incredibly complex piece of regulation, imposing various ‘multi factor’ tests that need to be deciphered before compliance minimums can be understood. Is a worker a casual? Is a worker an employee or contractor? Is a worker an employee-like worker? Should the FWC make a same job, same pay order? Each of these have complex and different 'multi-factor' tests.
- Make friends with a good IR lawyer - you will need them. Much of the new regulation involves new FWC jurisdiction to determine conditions and resolve disputes, and there will be lots more FWC applications such as applications for orders to ensure same pay for the same job, for minimum standards for employee-like workers, to deal with unfair services contract terms or about casual conversion rights. Employers/principals will need to defend these applications, otherwise they are effectively writing a blank cheque. The breadth of these new powers and obligations is well beyond what business groups have been lobbying for (e.g. same job same pay orders even potentially extend to some service contractors and internal group entities).
- Some road transport workers and digital labour platform workers (employee-like workers) will have extensive minimum standards and protection from unfair termination/deactivation, and businesses in those industries will find themselves having to navigate a new system of collective bargaining with these workers.
- Unions are back at the centre of the IR system and have been given tools to ensure this endures for the longer term. As an example, union delegates will have rights to paid leave for delegate training and employers must provide reasonable facilities and time for them to communicate with and represent members. Unions are also central to many of the new jurisdictions and powers set out in the Bill.
- Labour costs will increase. Almost overnight, many businesses will need to re-think engagement of labour hire and contractors given the new same job, same pay orders. This will likely translate to lower profit margins and higher costs of goods and services in these businesses.
It is clear that Australian businesses will need to give these reforms significant attention.
Over the course of the last few months, we have been keeping a close eye on industrial relations reform. Some of our insights can be found on our Australian Industrial Relations and Workplace Reform Hub, or on our dedicated industrial relations video podcast, InsideIR.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a member of our team if you would like to discuss the reforms, or how best to deal with them, including if a tailored briefing session would be of interest.
This article was originally published on 5 September 2023 and updated on 11 September 2023 and 7 September 2023 .