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Changes to Workplace Laws – An Outline of the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014

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By Chao Ni, Associate, MST Lawyers

On 27 February 2014, the Government tabled the latest Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 to amend the existing Fair Work Act 2009 and to deliver on aspects outlined in the Government’s Industrial Relations Policy.

A list of proposed changes includes the following:

  1. Employers will be able to take their proposed greenfield agreement to the Fair Work Commission (‘FWC’) for approval if no deal has been reached within three months of commenced negation with a union (or unions).
  2. The minimum notice for terminating individual flexibility agreements (‘IFA’) under enterprise agreements will be extended from 28 days to 13 weeks.  It will be made clear that non-mandatory benefits can be taken into account in assessing whether an employee is better off overall under an IFA, but the employer will be required to obtain a statement from the employee stating why he or she believes the arrangement is more beneficial. 
  3. The legislation will reverse the previous Government’s legislative changes which required employers to provide Union officials with travel and accommodation to remotes sites.  Furthermore, unions can only gain entry to sites if they are invited by a member who performs work on the premises, or if the union is covered by an enterprise agreement.
  4. The controversial “strike now, talk later” laws confirmed by the Federal Court in the J.J. Richards decisions will be reversed.  Before the FWC can make a protected action ballot order, the Employer must have initiated bargaining, agreed to bargain, or the union must have obtained a majority support determination, scope order or low paid authorisation.
  5. Annual leave loading will only be payable on termination of employment if it is contained in an enterprise agreement or award.
  6. Employees will be prevented from accruing or taking leave (whether paid or unpaid) during a period for which the employee is receiving worker’s compensation. 
  7. The transfer of business rules will not apply where an employee voluntarily move their employment between associated employers.
  8. The FWC will have more power to dismiss unfair dismissal applications without holding a hearing by exercising what is called a “designated application‑dismissal power”.

We expect that the Government will introduce further amendments to the Fair Work laws in due course to account for other aspects of their Industrial Relations Policy which have been omitted from the abovementioned Bill, such as those relating to:

  1. Making small business immune from prosecution for inadvertent underpayments.
  2. Requiring bullying applicants to go to an independent regulator before seeking FWC orders.
  3. Extending the new Fair Work bullying laws to include conduct by union officials.
  4. Requiring the FWC to be satisfied, before approving enterprise agreements, that the parties have discussed productivity during the negotiations.
  5. Prohibiting the FWC from approving ballots for industrial action where union demands are exorbitant.

If you have an enquiry about the contents of this article, please contact our Workplace Team on +61 3 8540 0200 or email the author of this article, Chao Ni.