Changes to Australian Fair Work Act

08 December 2022

The so called ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill’ to amend the Fair Work Act has passed both houses of Parliament. Employers are concerned the Bill has been rushed through and will not improve productivity, or guarantee high wages.

Their biggest concern is about multi-employer bargaining which they believe will make it easier for unions to round up a lot of businesses in one go, although that has not been the NZ experience to date. Many employers are now scrambling to get enterprise based EBAs in place, or renew expired ones (56% of employees covered by an agreement are on an expired EBA).

The Productivity Commission says that the current EBA system is unnecessarily complex and inefficient, saying that removing barriers to agreement-making could result in more efficient resource allocation and innovation. It points to limiting the reach of the better-off-overall test (BOOT), to make it more difficult for an EBA to offer different terms from a relevant Award, and increase efficiency in agreement approvals.

The Bill will also ban pay secrecy clauses, expand access to flexible rostering arrangements, limit the use of fixed-term contracts, and terminate "zombie" agreements.

The Fair Work Commission has slammed an employer for allowing an "archaic" enterprise agreement, which denied employees penalty rates, to operate for more than two decades. The EBA had commenced in December 1999 and expired in 2002. Then in early 2010, the FWC extended the nominal expiry date to the end of 2012. Under the EBA, employees at various levels were each paid a single rate for all hours worked, including weekends and public holidays. As part of the termination application, one employee said they appreciated the FWC investigating the "zombie agreement", as they worked hard but were deprived of penalty rates.

There are more changes on the way with a second tranche of reforms to be delivered next year.

Click here for the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022.