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Understanding the Impact of Australia’s New Workplace Laws on Your Situation

The changes stop employers calling after hours, and includes changes to bargaining, gig workers, independent road transport operators, and even franchisees.

After securing the support of two independent senators and the Greens, Labor has guaranteed the passage of its contentious industrial relations reforms.

Undoubtedly the most contentious issue has been the “right to disconnect,” effectively giving workers the right to ignore any messages or calls from their employer after they have finished work for the day.

But what else does the legislation cover?

More Laws Governing Gig Economy Workers

Parties will be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for orders setting minimum standards in the gig economy.

These might cover pay, penalty rates, superannuation, payment terms, record-keeping, insurance, and deactivation (the process of removing a gig economy worker from an app).

The reforms are limited to workers employed by digital platforms. They are seen as having low bargaining power, little control over their work, and are often paid rates below that of comparable employees.

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The workplace relations minister, currently Tony Burke, also has the power to make regulations that could bring platforms within the scope of these provisions.

A departmental analysis of this part of the Bill estimates they will deliver $4 billion in increased wages for workers over 10 years.

Independent Contractors to be Covered by the Fair Work Commission

While contractors’ rights are unchanged, those below a high-income threshold will be able to take disputes to the Fair Work Commission instead of a court.

More Rights for Casual Workers

It will become easier for casual employees to convert to full-time work if they choose.

Those who work full-time hours would be able to access leave entitlements and guaranteed hours if they change their employment status.

An Uber Eats delivery bag is seen in this photo. (Eva Plevier/Reuters)
An Uber Eats delivery bag is seen in this photo. (Eva Plevier/Reuters)

Underpayment Now Illegal

It will now be a criminal offence to deliberately underpay workers.

Employers who do so could face jail terms of up to 10 years and maximum fines of up to $7.8 million, or three times the amount that was underpaid if that amount exceeds the maximum fine.

However, businesses with less than 15 employees will be covered by a voluntary small business wage compliance code, meaning they will not be prosecuted if they take steps to ensure workers are paid correctly.

Labour Hire Arrangements to be Covered by ‘Same Work, Same Pay’ Rule

If an employer already has a collective pay deal and has brought in workers from a labour-hire company, then employees, unions, or the hire company can ask the Fair Work Commission to ensure that the temporary workers are paid the same rates.

However small businesses are exempt, as are labour hire contracts lasting less than three months. FWC orders will only apply to pay, and not to non-monetary benefits.

Expanded Right-of-Entry Powers for Unions

Currently, union officials have the right to enter a workplace to investigate potential breaches of the Fair Work Act provided they give 24 hours’ notice, though the Fair Work Commission can waive this requirement because of concerns about possible document destruction.

The new law allows the Commission to also waive the notice period if it is satisfied that the suspected breach involves the underpayment of a union member who works there.

Changes to Bargaining

There are numerous changes to bargaining between workers and employers. Among them are: franchisees will be able to band together to negotiate a franchise agreement with their franchisor; multiple agreements can be replaced by a single enterprise agreement at any time; and the Fair Work Commission can draw up enterprise agreement model terms.

Extra Laws for the Road Transport Industry

The Fair Work Commission will be empowered to set minimum standards for the road transport industry, including the charge-out rates of independent contractor owner-drivers, and therefore their rate of pay.

There is a requirement for genuine consultation with parties including the road transport advisory group. The Commission will have to issue a notice of intention to give parties time to consider draft minimum standards orders before they become binding.

Prohibition Against Discrimination Based on Family Violence

It will become illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis they have been subjected to family or domestic violence.

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