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Secure Jobs, Better Pay – What does the industrial relations reform mean for me?

December 2, 2022

Today the Albanese Federal Government passed the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill through the Federal Parliament. This is a major win for workers across Australia and has real benefits for every single AWU member in Western Australia.

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill delivers strong protections and real benefits to AWU members including:

✅ A simpler process to secure new Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBA).
✅ Providing pathways for expired EBAs to be renegotiated.
✅ Makes it harder for employers to tear up existing EBAs.
✅ Make it easier for workers to reclaim stolen wages.
✅ Workers in similar industries can bargain across multiple employers.
✅ Enables workers to seek flexible, family friendly rostering arrangements.

The bill also abolishes the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and sees Registered Organisation Commissions (ROC) powers transferred back to Fair Work where they belong.

The new industrial laws are the result of concerted pressure from the AWU and Australian unions, and is an important first step to levelling the playing field and ensuring workers can once again access fair and decent pay rises.

The bill has passed through the Federal Parliament this week and will become law by the end of the year. Most of the changes concerning bargaining will take effect in July next year.

How will I benefit from the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill?

1. Better pay and conditions – Making it easier to negotiate Enterprise Bargaining Agreements and protecting existing agreements

The bill removes the onerous requirement for a Majority Support Determination (MSD) for employees to prove they have majority union members on site each time they want to renegotiate an existing agreement. This is a cumbersome and costly process for workers who wish to simply update their already hard-fought union pay and conditions. The removal of this requirement will allow your union to reallocate resources normally spent on MSDs to be used to get you a better deal through the negotiation process and will remove an unnecessary barrier to negotiating a new agreement.

The bill also makes it harder for employers to terminate agreements requiring very specific circumstances for a termination to occur and if any parties to an agreement oppose its termination it must be heard by a full bench of the Fair Work Commission. This is a welcome and very important change as many of our members would be aware the AWU has spent significant time, energy and resources opposing employers attempts to terminate existing agreements. This will further protect your pay and conditions allowing your union to focus on negotiating your next agreement.

The bill also broadens the powers the Fair Work Commission to intervene and make workplace determinations where bargaining between employees and their employer has broken down or grinded to a halt.

2. Making it easier for workers to reclaim stolen wages

Wage theft is endemic in Australia with the AWU routinely catching employers stealing wages and allowances from our members.

The bill begins to address wage theft through increasing the small claims cap from $20,000 to $100,000 which will allow employees to take legal action in a small claims court to reclaim stolen wages or allowances. Employees who are successful in the small claims court will also be able to apply to claim their filing fees back from the opposing party (as costs) to ensure they are not penalised for claiming back their stolen wages or entitlements.

While this is a good start the AWU looks forward to more in this space from the Albanese Federal Government who committed to making wage theft a crime at the recent Federal Election.

3. Making family friendly rosters and flexible work a workplace right

Workers will now be able to request flexible work arrangements in a wider range of circumstances, such as situations of family and domestic violence or caring for a loved one.

Previously under the National Employment Standards (NES) flexible working arrangements were not an enforceable provision. Under the amended legislation employers are now required discuss requests with their workers and consider each request and provide a response within 21 days. This includes providing detailed reasoning such as any cost or productivity reasons for not granting a request.

Workers can now also raise disputes in relation to flexible work arrangements in the Fair Work Commission.

These provisions are in addition to the 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave per year for all employees which was passed through Parliament in October.

4. Making our industrial system fairer and more transparent

The bill attempts create an equal playing field through making gender pay parity an objective of the Fair Work Act. The bill also prohibits pay secrecy clauses in contracts or agreements which are routinely used by employers to divide workers and hide workforce pay disparities.

The bill further prohibits the use of fixed term contracts for periods of more than two years. If an employee is still required after this two-year period an employer in most circumstances must provide permanent employment.

These changes are an important step to addressing insecure work in Australia although more needs to be done to improve job security to protect casual workers and eliminate exploitation of workers through labour hire, gig and sham contracting arrangements.

5. Multi-Employer Bargaining

Workers in like industries now have the option to enter into Multi-Employer Bargaining as a way to lift wages and boost industry standards.

Low paid workers and those working at smaller employers have always found it hard to negotiate an agreement. Whether it was due to a fragmented workforce or simply due to the nature of work such as childcare and aged care.

The AWU WA Branch will be undertaking a review of existing agreements to see if this can be utilised in any of our existing industries such as Food Processing, Industrial Services or Catering and Cleaning.

6. Addressing sexual harassment in the workplace – implementing the Respect @ Work report recommendations

The bill amends the Fair Work Act to prohibit sexual harassment in all workplaces. Your safety at work matters and no one should feel unsafe at work. Sexual harassment is now treated no differently to any other safety risk.

Employers may now be liable for sexual harassment by their employees, unless the employer can demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent the conduct from occurring.

Practically this means that your employer must take all reasonable steps to avoid sexual harassment in your workplace including having a policy when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Workers can now apply for stop-sexual-harassment orders similar to the existing stop-bullying orders which means that individuals as well as employers, board members, directors and decision makers can be named in such proceedings.

While these changes provide you with much needed protections and workplace rights, the best way to protect yourself at work is to join your union, the Australian Workers’ Union.

This information provided is general and if you have further questions on how this legislation affects your workplace, you should contact your organiser or our office on 08 9221 1686 or [email protected].

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