The Scott Morrison-led Coalition is set to get another term. Will the win against the odds result in changes to Australia's employment laws?
The Coalition did not make many significant policy announcements in relation to industrial relations during its campaign, and as a result it is a return to the status quo from an industrial relations and employment perspective. However, there are some clues that can be drawn from statements and unfinished initiatives from the last term.
- Following the decision of WorkPac v Skene in 2018 and the current test case WorkPac v Rossato, the Coalition has signalled its intention to continue its work to prevent employees who allege that they have misclassified as casuals from being back-paid entitlements. This would prevent these employees from "double-dipping" and accessing both the casual loading and the entitlements of permanent workers (such as paid leave).
- As announced before the election campaign, the Coalition plans to amend the National Employment Standards to create a right for casual employees to request to convert to permanent full-time or part-time work. This comes as a result of the 2018 move by the Fair Work Commission to incorporate casual conversion clauses into 85 modern awards. Expect this to be accompanied by greater protections against "double-dipping" claims.
- The Coalition intends to grant the Federal Court power to deregister unions or to disqualify officials for repeated or serious breaches of the law.
- The Coalition has previously suggested that it plans to introduce a public interest test for union amalgamations.
- The Coalition will work to prevent enterprise agreements from being permitted to include clauses mandating which fund to pay workers' superannuation into. This will have a potential impact on union controlled industry superannuation funds which benefit from such provisions.
Apprentices / Training
- The Coalition intends to establish a AUD525 million skills package. This includes a target of 80,000 new apprenticeships in areas with skills shortages by doubling employer incentive payments and AUD2,000 payment to new apprentices.
- The Coalition has announced that it intends to commit AUD75 million to a new "Mid-Career Checkpoint" initiative intended to support up to 40,000 Australians, particularly women, looking to return from time out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities.
In addition to the proposed policies above, it is important to note the initiatives advanced by the Coalition in the Budget 2019-20, including:
National Labour Hire Scheme
- Establishing a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme. The Scheme would make it mandatory for labour hire operators in high-risk sectors, such as horticulture, cleaning, meat processing and security sectors to register with the Federal Government. The intended consequence is to ensure transparency in the labour hire industry, introduce a pre-entry requirement to those operating as a labour hire business, help reduce worker exploitation and ultimately drive behavioural change.
- The Scheme would also dedicate a portion of the funding to enhancing the Fair Work Ombudsman's capacity to investigate underpayment and related issues, and deliver information and education activities.
Sham Contracting Unit
- Establishing a dedicated sham contracting unit within the Fair Work Ombudsman. The unit will target employers engaging in sham contracting behaviour by increasing education, compliance and enforcement activities, and dedicating additional resources to investigate and litigate cases.
Workplace Advice Service
- Expanding the Fair Work Commission's Workplace Advice Service clinics. This will enable approximately 35,000 small business employers and self-represented workers to access free legal advice on employment law.
New Employment Services Model
- Pilot key elements of a new employment services model, which will enable employers to meet skills shortages faster by searching for job candidates for free.
At the time of writing, it is predicted that the Coalition will secure a majority with 77 or 78 seats in the House of Representatives and have a reduced number of crossbench Senators whose votes are required to pass legislation. This suggests that further legislative change is not necessarily off the agenda.