Last week the Albanese Government introduced their industrial relations legislation to put an end to 9 years of attacks on workers’ rights and conditions by the Liberal National government.
The new legislation called the “Secure Jobs, Better Pay” Bill is the first major piece of industrial relations reform and represents the first tranche of legislation which the government has committed to.
The Albanese Government has indicated another tranche of legislation to be introduced in the new year.
The legislation makes several positive changes to the Fair Work Act including:
- Strengthening laws on equal pay, tackling sexual harassment and discrimination at work and the right to request flexible working arrangements.
- Tackling insecure work by limiting the use of fixed term contracts.
- Make bargaining more accessible, including by introducing and improving multi-employer bargaining streams and simplifying approval processes.
- Dealing with the termination of agreements and “sunsetting” zombie agreements.
- Strengthening compliance by lifting the cap on small claims.
- Abolishing the Australian Building & Construction Commission and Registered Organisations Commission.
The legislation also has an excellent provision that means rogue employers who attempt to break away from multi-employer bargaining can be required to participate in bargaining.
Another significant element of the new legislation, which the Union supports, is the introduction of compliance requirements which will see the cap on small claims lifted.
Right now, small claims are limited to $20,000 which has limited the Union in pursuing a number of under payment claims.
Lifting of the small claims cap will mean the Union can pursue much larger under payment claims through the small claims court without having to engage a legal team, and of course the associated costs of engaging barristers and presenting cases in higher courts.
The legislation contains provisions to tackle sexual harassment and gendered violence at work which represent significant steps forward. These are issues the Union has been vocal about; supporting Victorian and national efforts to address them in meaningful ways.
However, if you were to listen to various employer groups, the new legislation would bring doom and gloom with endless industrial action. As always, these employer groups make unsupported claims about the impact of the legislation on business, that while wages need to increase now is not the time (even though it never seems to be a good time to increase wages) and that the legislation will result in a downturn in employment.
The reality of the new legislation is that there are no provisions that would make industrial action easier or see any increase in strike action. The legislation does not mean that there will be significant increases in wages and there is no evidence that it will result in a downturn in employment.
It’s disappointing that employer groups choose to mislead and misinform the public and their own members about the nature and contents of the new legislation.
If anything, we are disappointed that the legislation does nothing to address the fact that workers in Australia are unable to pursue industrial action, unlike businesses who can take aggressive industrial action without the same limits or requirements as workers and their Unions.
The Union, along with the broader union movement, will continue to lobby the Albanese Government to address key issues. However, the legislation as it stands does provide some significant improvements.
The Union generally supports the Albanese Government’s first major piece of industrial relations legislation.
We will hold our judgement about the legislation until after it has gone through a Senate inquiry which will report to the Senate on 17 November.
We would expect to see amendments proposed following the Senate inquiry, with some Senators indicating they need more information about the legislation.