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Facilitate jobs growth through policies and programs that promote fair, productive and safe workplaces, and facilitate the growth of small business.
Throughout 2018–19, the department provided advice on workplace relations policy and managed the Commonwealth work health and safety and workers’ compensation framework.
The department supported the passage of significant legislation, and supported the Australian Government’s international and domestic engagement with a range of stakeholders, to develop and progress workplace relations and work health and safety reforms.
The department implemented and administered a number of key programs and initiatives, including the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG) scheme, the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Program, the Seasonal Worker Programme, and a suite of measures to support Australian small businesses.
- The department supported the passage of the Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Act 2018. The Act streamlines Fair Work Commission (FWC) processes by removing the requirement for 4-Yearly Reviews of Modern Awards and enables the FWC to approve enterprise agreements despite minor errors made during bargaining. This Act also strengthens the ways in which allegations of misbehaviour or incapacity against FWC members can be dealt with. The department supported the passage of the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Act 2018 (12 December 2018). The Act introduced five days of unpaid leave for national system employees who need time off work to deal with the impacts of family and domestic violence.
- The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, represented the Australian Government for part of the centenary session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, which was held from 10 to 21 June 2019. Key outcomes from the conference include the adoption of a Centenary Declaration reaffirming the International Labour Organization’s objectives in a changing world of work, and a new international standard on ending violence and harassment in the world of work.
- The department continued to lead the Government’s engagement on work health and safety priorities. This included consideration of the final report of the 2018 review of the model work health and safety laws, and recommendations from the Senate inquiry into the framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia. On 20 December 2018, the Government tabled its response to the Senate inquiry report on how the investigation and prosecution processes in the existing framework can be improved.
- The department and the Department of Home Affairs implemented amendments to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 and the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958, which took effect on 26 March 2019. The amendments support consistent treatment of asbestos and permit the import of asbestos waste from Australian external territories to support its lawful and appropriate disposal on the mainland.
- Law reforms to address corporate misuse of the FEG were passed by Parliament on 4 April 2019 and began operation on 6 April 2019. The department collaborated with the Department of the Treasury to prepare a joint ministerial policy consultation paper, develop draft legislation to amend the Corporations Act 2001, and host two sets of roundtables to discuss the reforms with stakeholders. The reforms significantly strengthen the protections for employee entitlements in the Corporations Act and had strong support across a broad range of stakeholders. The new laws strengthen enforcement and recovery options to better address avoidance of employee entitlements in insolvency and deter improper reliance on the FEG.
- The department implemented a 24-month trial of changes to the Seasonal Worker Programme to benefit farmers and Pacific workers. All seasonal workers can now work for up to nine months in any 12-month period. Labour market testing is now valid for six months, and out-of-pocket costs for employers have reduced from $500 to $300.
- The department supported delivery of the Report of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce and the government response to the report, both released on 7 March 2019. The report highlights serious issues concerning the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers. It makes 22 recommendations across multiple government portfolios, aimed at better protecting workers in Australia.
- The department organised a national series of Small Business Fairs in 23 locations over eight weeks to promote new and existing government-funded services, financial support and tools.
- The department established an inter-agency Franchising Taskforce, as recommended by the report of the parliamentary joint committee inquiry into franchising, to address systemic issues in the Australian franchising sector.
- The Workplace Relations system is complex and can be difficult to understand. The department is working with the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman to develop non-regulatory solutions that will make it easier for employers and employees/workers to navigate the workplace relations system and improve interactions with the Fair Work institutions.
- The Federal Safety Commissioner released a discussion paper in December 2018 outlining its proposed framework for auditing accredited companies against the National Construction Code’s performance requirements in relation to building materials. This extends the Federal Safety Commissioner’s traditional role beyond worker safety to also focus on the built environment, which is the responsibility of state and territory governments. The discussion paper outlines an approach that avoids potential regulatory overlap.
- The Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Program has had considerable success in identifying and resolving ambiguities in the laws to ensure that employers and other stakeholders meet their obligations to pay employee entitlements. There remains work to be done in this area. Ambiguities in the law are typically solved incrementally as opportunities to bring appropriate factual scenarios before a court arise. However, often disputes are settled before trial and do not proceed to consideration by the courts. Furthermore, initial court decisions solving for one ambiguity may in turn create new complexities that need to be tested by further case law. The challenge of the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Program is not only to continue to seek clarification from the courts on ambiguous laws where necessary but also to engage with stakeholders in ways that influence them to meet their obligation to pay employee entitlements.
- Previous reviews of the Comcare and Seacare workers’ compensation schemes have identified areas for significant reform; however, stakeholder consensus on improvements has been elusive. The department will continue to work on options to improve the Commonwealth’s workers’ compensation schemes in the coming period.
- Because of the rapid growth of the Seasonal Worker Programme, its settings are being revised to address current and emerging risks. The department’s approach to strengthening the program includes improving the assurance strategy, governance, information sharing with other agencies, and providing additional rigour in the assessment of new applications to become an approved employer.