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Coalition proposes reform to ‘stamp out exploitation’

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By Brenton Allen, Lawyer, MST Lawyers 

On 19 May 2016, the Coalition launched its Policy to Protect Vulnerable Workers (‘Policy’), pledging to introduce a number of reforms to Australia’s workplace relations framework if re-elected this year.

The reforms would see a number of amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 and, in addition, a $20 million increase in funding to Australia’s workplace relations watchdog, the Fair Work Ombudsman (‘FWO’).

Reforms proposed in the Policy include:

  • the introduction of higher penalties for ‘serious contraventions’. This would see employers who deliberately and systematically underpay workers and fail to keep proper records risk fines of up to ten times the maximum penalties currently provided for in the Act ($10,800 for individuals and $54,000 for bodies corporate).
  • the introduction of new offence provisions holding franchisors and parent companies liable for breaches of the Act by their franchisees or subsidiaries in circumstances where they should have been reasonably aware of the breaches and could reasonably have taken action to prevent them from occurring.
  • the enhancement of the FWO’s powers to gather evidence (resulting in powers akin to those currently held by, for example, ASIC, the ACCC and the ATO).
  • the introduction of new penalty provisions relating to the obstruction of Fair Work Inspectors and the provision of false or misleading information to Fair Work Inspectors.
  • the establishment of a Migrant Workers Taskforce in the FWO that will target employers who exploit migrant workers.

For franchisors and parent companies alike, now is the time to ensure your franchisees and/or subsidiaries are compliant with minimum workplace entitlements to ensure you are not exposed to a civil penalty should the proposed reforms be introduced.

For more information, please contact our Employment Law and Workplace Safety team by email workplace@mst.com.au or by telephone Ph: +61 3 8540 0200.