On 13 October 2015, the Senate approved the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 ("Bill") which amends the greenfields agreement provisions in theFair Work Act 2009 (Cth) ("FWA"). The amendments give employers greater power to resolve deadlocks when negotiating greenfields agreements.
Greenfields agreements are enterprise agreements which are made between an employer and one or more unions in circumstances where the employer is establishing a new enterprise. The negotiation of greenfields agreements can be difficult.
The Bill is directed toward ensuring that enterprise agreements are negotiated efficiently. The proposed amendments allow employers to seek approval of their proposed greenfields agreement if no deal has been reached with the union or unions after a six-month "negotiating period". This is designed to give employers a mechanism to resolve deadlocks to prevent excessive delays in project start dates. However, the approval is still subject to restrictions, including the "better off overall test" and good faith bargaining requirements.
The original proposal allowed employers to seek approval of their proposed greenfields agreements after a three-month negotiating period, but the period was extended to six months after opposition from crossbenchers in the Federal Parliament. The new greenfields provisions will be the subject of a review after two years, meaning this area could be the subject of further change in the future.
Despite the Senate's approval of the Bill, it still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives before it becomes law. The Bill also includes other amendments to the FWA, such as changes to the protected action ballot order requirements and a new obligation on employers to give employees a reasonable opportunity to discuss requests to extend parental leave.