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Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill - What does it mean for SDA members?

The Morrison Government continues its efforts to push through parliament a raft of changes to workplace laws that do not improve job security. Our industrial laws have not been a problem during the Pandemic. Essential workers should not be at risk of job insecurity after all their hard work to get our community through the pandemic.

The draft workplace laws have passed the lower house and are now being sent to the Senate for debate.

The Australian Union movement, including the SDA, have raised real concerns with the proposed sweeping reforms that, if left in their current form, could lead to reductions in wages, workplace entitlements, and job security.

The SDA and our members believe that good public policy should drive greater job security – this is critical with 1 in 6 workers in retail wanting more hours and wanting more stability in their employment. The IR Omnibus bill does not help this.

Job security should always be at the centre of workplace laws. Consumer confidence is built on people’s sense of job security. Increased job security gives people confidence to spend more and contribute to better economic growth across the Australian economy.

More jobs security is needed and the bill does not do this.

What is in the IR Omnibus bill?

The bill (draft law) was introduced to the Australian Parliament in December 2020.

The draft laws seek to make changes to the classification and rights of casuals, prolong the use of COVID worker directives under the JobKeeper scheme, alter the enterprise bargaining process and change the laws surrounding wage theft.

The bill looks to create a definition of a casual. The definition will limit the ability of workers to challenge their classification as casual regardless of the real nature of their employment. The law is also retrospective and would change workers current legal rights if they were genuinely misclassified in the past.

While the Bill provides for a casual conversion clause it does not offer a genuine way for a worker whose employer refuses them conversion to part-time to challenge the decision

The bill sets out changes to part-time work in specific Awards but these can be extended to all Awards by the stroke of the Ministers pen. Part-time work provisions should not be dealt with by the Parliament, or the Minister, they should be dealt with in industry Awards at the Fair Work Commission

The bill provides for the extension of job changes under the emergency JobKeeper directives as a result of the pandemic, but without the JobKeeper payments. There will no longer be the requirement under the proposed laws for a company to prove that they have had a reduction in turnover because of the pandemic to access the job changes only that it forms a part of a reasonable strategy to assist in the revival of the employer’s business. This is a very broad test for employers to satisfy that removes safeguards of abuse and removes the JobKeeper payments too.

The proposed law does not give a worker the right to challenge the reasonableness of a job change decision in the Fair Work Commission.

There are significant changes proposed to the process of bargaining for enterprise agreements. The mandatory requirement for an employee to get a copy of the proposed agreement and any associated material will be removed. This may stop workers from making an informed decision about an Agreement when voting. Also, if an agreement is made and members then told the Union about it, but the Union was not involved in bargaining we will be barred from making submissions at the FWC on whether the agreement should be approved or not.

One problem of great concern to the SDA has been removed from the bill after successful lobbying efforts of the cross bench by Australian Unions to ensure Agreements can’t be substandard. It was important to remove the problem because otherwise it could have let agreements that were substandard be approved by the commission and run for a period of up to 4 years.

One part of the proposed legislation that the SDA does agree with is the forced termination of “Zombie agreements” dating back to WorkChoices. However this won’t take effect until 1 July 2022, unnecessarily delaying something that should have already been done.

The proposed changes to the wage theft laws do not address the main problem of fast access to a simple small claims tribunal to quickly deal with underpayments and get the money back in members pockets. Instead the bill proposes a complex legalistic approach that will, make it harder for regulators to convict wage thieves and get money back to workers.

The bill would override the laws that already exist in some States and is working in those States as an effective deterrent for unscrupulous employers systemically underpaying workers.

What Now?

The bill will now go to the Senate for debate. In this process the SDA will continue to advocate on behalf of workers in retail, pharmacy, fast food and warehousing.

Together with Australian Unions and the Australian Labor Party, we will continue to lobby the cross bench in parliament to make sure that essential workers who got us through the pandemic are not left worse off by these proposed laws.

Any changes to the IR system should be focused on better wages, better job security and better conditions for Australian workers, it is the only way to a fairer and more prosperous future.

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