With the Federal election tomorrow, there is significant angst amongst employers as to what a Labor win might mean, and in particular what changes may result to the employment and industrial landscape. Regardless however, of who may win the election, there are a number of matters that should be top of mind.
If Labor wins the election it has pledged to do the following:
- Reverse the cuts to penalty rates, and reinstate changes made to modern awards in the retail and hospitality industries.
- Seek to have the minimum wage lifted by 6% in July 2019 and further increase in 2020.
- Labor has pledged to the change the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) guidelines for setting the minimum wage. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is recommending the minimum wage should be pegged at 60% of the median wage.
- Labor has said they will legislate to ensure that workers engaged through labour hire arrangements receive the same pay and conditions as workers employed directly.
- Labor has flagged that they will make changes to the definition of “casuals” to end the practice of long term permanent casuals. It will also allow casual employees who have been employed for more than 12 months to be converted to permanent part-time or full-time employment.
- To clamp down on wage theft and introduce harsher penalties for employers who fail to pay their employees correctly. In addition, Labor will establish a special small claims jurisdiction sitting alongside the FWC to deal with underpayment claims.
- Remove zombie agreements and prevent unfair termination of enterprise agreements, and sham enterprise agreements. This means Labor will change how the making of enterprise agreements will work, to ensure that employees seeking to introduce an enterprise agreement need approval from the majority of employees covered by the agreement rather that a small number of employees who vote for an agreement. It wants to eradicate the circumstances where a small number of employees vote for an agreement that will then cover a much larger workforce.
- Labor will also introduce multi-employer bargaining. Some have criticized this as a return to pattern bargaining, meaning that bargaining effectively occurs at industry level, making it difficult for individual employers to resist.
- Labor wants to introduce an industrial manslaughter offence across Australia, in circumstances of a fatality at work.
While the Liberal Party have not made any specific policy statements regarding changes to the employment or industrial landscape, they have promised to support small business. The policy states that a Liberal government will make it easier for small business to employ workers. This may signal a change to the unfair dismissal regime, although this is unclear at the moment.
However, we do know that under the current regime the Fair Work Ombudsman has been extremely active in pursuing employers who are underpaying their workers or otherwise failing to adhere to the requirements of the modern awards. It has also flagged concerns regarding labour hire operators and has strengthened protections for vulnerable workers in this regard.
No matter which party wins the election, the best way to insure against increased costs as a result of a change of government is for employers to take active steps to ensure that they have a strong and committed workforce. The level of engagement, trust and commitment of your employees will directly impact your ability to overcome any changes introduced by either political party, regardless of who comes to power.
In addition, employers should be taking immediate steps to review their employment practices to ensure:
- they are applying the correct modern award and paying employees appropriately;
- if using labour hire, employees are being paid correctly and that the labour hire company is complying with all legal and modern award requirements;
- audit the organisation’s use of casual employees to determine whether they are actually long-term casual employees and should be offered permanent employment. The conversion of long-term casual employees may in fact be a significant cost saving for employers and protect against a number of potential liabilities and the risk of underpayment claims; and
- provide appropriate training to staff and managers regarding critical matters such as work health and safety and appropriate workplace behaviours.
Although we think the Australian economy faces interesting times ahead, ultimately the best protection for any business in relation to staffing and employment costs, is a stable, cohesive and committed workforce who are focused on ensuring the success of the business. This should be the aim of any good employer, regardless of the government of the day.
If you wish to discuss any aspect of this article or require our specialist advice or assistance in relation to an employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
This alert is not intended to constitute, and should not be treated as, legal advice.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please also note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.