With the passage of the Fair Work Amendment Act 2012, the Gillard Government has secured parliamentary support for its first round of reforms in response to the recommendations of the Fair Work Act Review.
Most of the changes will be implemented on a date yet to be formally announced, but likely to be 1 January 2013. As previously announced by Minister Shorten and summarised in our special October 2012 edition of Employment Matters, the changes include:
- setting new time limits of 21 days for both unfair dismissal and dismissalrelated general protections claimse
- xpanding the circumstances in which costs orders can made against parties (or indeed representatives) who act unreasonably in relation to an unfair dismissal claim, and also the circumstances in which such a claim can be thrown out
- prohibiting opt-out clauses in enterprise agreements, ensuring that agreements must cover more than one employee, and preventing union officials acting as bargaining representatives where their union has no coverage, and
- making various changes to the rules for conducting protected action ballots.
It has also now been confirmed that Fair Work Australia (FWA) will be renamed the Fair Work Commission, despite both its President, Justice Ross, and the Review panel recommending that the words ‘Fair Work’ be dropped.
Another request from Justice Ross, that the agency have a single Vice President with judicial status and salary, has been answered with the creation of two Vice Presidents, but without that status. It is unclear whether the two existing FWA members who currently have the title of ‘Vice President’ (carried over from their previous appointments to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission) will be appointed to the new roles, which will apparently be advertised.
Finally, the FWA’s Minimum Wage Panel will be subsumed within a new Expert Panel of the renamed Commission. Besides conducting annual wage reviews, this Panel will oversee a new and more transparent process for identifying the superannuation funds to be listed in modern awards as ‘default’ options for employer contributions.