The Coalition’s Protecting Vulnerable Workers Policy contains a number of proposed changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to target employers who systematically exploit workers. These changes are apparently motivated by the 7-Eleven underpayment situation, and are as follows:
- Higher penalties – any employer who deliberately and systematically underpays workers and fails to keep proper records will be subject to a new higher penalty category of “serious contraventions”. Under this category, the current maximum penalty for corporations will increase from $51,000 to $510,000.
- New powers for the Fair Work Ombudsman – the Ombudsman will be given compulsory evidence-gathering powers similar to those held by ASIC, the ACCC and the ATO. These powers will allow the Ombudsman to compel employers to produce information and answer questions.
- New offences – employers who pay employees their correct wages, but then force employees to repay a part of their wages in cash, will be penalised. It will also be an offence to obstruct or provide false and misleading information to Fair Work Inspectors.
- Targeting franchises – new laws will make franchisors and parent companies responsible for their franchisees’ and subsidiaries’ exploitation of workers. Franchisors and parent companies may be penalised where they should reasonably have been aware of breaches by their franchisees or subsidiaries, and could have taken reasonable steps to prevent those breaches from happening. The new laws will not apply to franchisors who have taken reasonable steps to educate their franchisees about their workplace obligations and have assurance processes in place.
- Migrant Workers Taskforce – a Taskforce will be set up within the office of the Ombudsman focusing on employers who exploit migrant workers. Professor Alan Fels and Dr David Cousins will advise the Taskforce. In particular, they will focus on ensuring that 7-Eleven addresses its failure to provide minimum entitlements to 7-Eleven franchise employees.
To enforce these new laws, the Coalition plans to increase the Ombudsman’s funding by $20 million.
The Coalition has also proposed the following workplace relations policies:
- Working Holiday Visa Review – the Coalition plans to review the working holidaymaker 417 and 462 visa schemes, with a particular focus on the agriculture and tourism sectors. Any agreed changes following the review will take effect from 1 January 2017.
- Unions – the Coalition intends to adopt recommendations made by the Heydon Royal Commission relating to unions and the building industry, including:
- re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
- introducing statutory requirements for officials of registered organisations to act in the best interests of their members, and to declare any financial benefits they receive;
- imposing penalties for the deliberate falsification of membership records;
- introducing a new public interest test for mergers of registered organisations; and
- empowering Courts to ban officials of registered organisations, and deregister organisations if they become “dysfunctional” or are no longer serving the interests of their members.
- Trucking industry – the Coalition has promised not to reintroduce the abolished Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, or establish mandatory payment rates. Instead, the Coalition intends to provide $4 million to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to consult with industry as to how to improve road safety.
Russell Kennedy will publish further updates about these proposals depending on the outcome of the 2016 Federal election.l;aetkl;hsgrl/n