The Fair Work Amendment Act 2015 (Cth) (the Act) commenced on 27 November 2015, introducing changes to unpaid parental leave arrangements, and requirements for greenfields agreements and protected action ballot orders.

Requests for extended unpaid parental leave period

An employee has the right to request up to an additional 12 months' unpaid parental leave from their employer (subject to certain requirements) after the employee has taken an initial 12 months' unpaid leave. An employer may only refuse such a request on "reasonable business grounds".

An employer will now be required to give an employee a reasonable opportunity to discuss the employee's request to extend their unpaid parental leave period before the employer can refuse the  request. This obligation will not apply where the employer has already agreed to the request.

Whilst the term "reasonable opportunity" is undefined, discussions need not be face-to-face if a such a meeting is not possible or convenient. Rather, this discussion can occur by other means, (for example, a teleconference or videoconference).  However, the Explanatory Memorandum to the text of the Act indicates that text message or email communication will most likely not satisfy this new requirement.

Other changes

The Act also introduces good faith bargaining obligations to greenfields agreements. Employers are now able to take a proposed greenfields agreement to the Fair Work Commission for approval if a deal has not been struck with relevant union parties within 6 months of the bargaining process commencing.

The Act also creates a clear rule such that employees cannot seek to apply for a protected action ballot order (required before seeking to take protected industrial action) unless a bargaining period has commenced.