The two Bills that triggered the nation’s double dissolution election, namely, the Registered Organisations Bill 2014 and the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013, have passed through Parliament.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Act 2016

This legislation has already commenced. Broadly, this legislation:

  • establishes an independent watchdog, the Registered Organisations Commission, with enhanced investigation and information gathering powers to monitor and regulate registered organisations;
  • provides for the appointment, functions and powers of a Registered Organisations Commission Commissioner who will take over the current investigatory, enforcement and advisory responsibilities in relation to the registered organisations role of the Fair Work Commission;
  • increases the requirements for officers’ disclosure of material personal interests (including financial accounting and disclosure obligations) and changes the grounds for disqualification and ineligibility for office; and
  • substantially increases civil penalties and introduces criminal offences for serious breaches of officers’ duties and new offences in relation to the conduct of investigations.

Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will replace the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission.

In addition to restoring the ABCC, the legislation will:

  • expand the definition of ‘building work’ subject to ABCC oversight to cover the transportation or supply of goods to building sites and offshore resources platforms;
  • prohibit coercion, discrimination and unenforceable agreements;
  • create new prohibitions on organising or taking unlawful industrial action, or unlawful picketing;
  • increase penalties for unlawful industrial action from $10,800 to $34,000 for individuals, and from $54,000 to $170,000 for corporate entities (including unions).

The same penalties apply to disruptive picketing.

This legislation is expected to commence shortly, upon receiving royal assent.

And in Queensland

The Industrial Relations Bill 2016 (Qld) passed through Parliament in Queensland and will commence on a date to be proclaimed. The new legislation will introduce a range of employee rights, including general protections, anti-bullying laws and the introduction of a ‘mutual trust and confidence’ objective.

What does this mean for employers?

It is expected that the federal legislation will assist employers to combat unlawful union activity, particularly in the construction industry.

Employers covered by the Queensland legislation (such as the state public sector) are likely to be exposed to more employee claims.