The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 has now passed the Senate.  The Bill introduces a number of significant amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), including new powers for the Fair Work Commission to stop workplace bullying which commence on 1 January 2014.

The changes introduced by the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 (“Bill”) were summarised in our earlier alert on the Bill when it was first introduced to Parliament. 

The key changes include new family friendly measures, consultation requirements for changes to roster arrangements and right of entry provisions.  However, potentially the most significant change is the introduction of the new bullying jurisdiction in the Fair Work Commission (“FWC”), which will now commence on 1 January 2014.  FWC General Manager Bernadette O’Neill recently told the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee during an Estimates Hearing that the FWC expected there to be an extra 3,500 applications lodged per year as a result of this new jurisdiction. 

Several further changes were made to the Bill prior to it being passed by the Senate.  These changes include new amendments which:

  • specify the circumstances in which the new bullying provisions apply to certain Government agencies, including the Defence Force and Australian Federal Police;
  • clarify the FWC’s powers to mediate, express opinions and make recommendations when conducting conferences;
  • establish a new “consent arbitration” jurisdiction, which allows the FWC to arbitrate general protections dismissal disputes and unlawful termination disputes by consent.  The FWC will initially deal with these types of disputes by way of mediation, conciliation, making recommendations or expressing an opinion.  If, following this, the FWC issues a certificate in respect of the dispute, the parties may notify the FWC within 14 days of the certificate being issued that they agree to FWC arbitrating the dispute.  The FWC may (amongst other things) make an order for reinstatement of the person, a compensation order or “remuneration lost” order. This new avenue is meant to provide a faster, less expensive and less formal alternative to court proceedings.  The employee has the option of making a court application.  However, generally speaking, if the parties agree to FWC arbitrating the dispute, a court application in respect of same cannot be made;
  • include, in respect of the FWC’s new “consent arbitration” jurisdiction, some new procedural provisions, which provide for limited rights of appeal from arbitrated decisions of the FWC and the making of costs orders.

Many of the changes (including the new bullying remedy) will commence on 1 January 2014.  However, a number of changes (including the family friendly measures) may commence earlier, depending on the day the legislation receives Royal Assent.