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Workplace relations policy advice

Protecting vulnerable workers

Established in October 2016, the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce was responsible for identifying improvements to deliver better protections to vulnerable migrant workers in Australia. On 7 March 2019, the taskforce released its report, which shows that a substantial number of temporary visa holders, particularly working holiday-makers and international students, are being exploited in Australian workplaces. The report also highlights that many of these workers are unaware of their legal rights and face difficulties in taking action to address underpayment.

The recommendations of the report include:

  • introducing criminal penalties for the most serious forms of exploitative conduct
  • establishing a national labour hire registration scheme
  • strengthening legislation to provide better protections for migrant workers
  • increasing penalties to align with other business laws
  • extending provisions to prevent companies from contracting out of their workplace obligations
  • extending coverage of the Fair Entitlements Guarantee to temporary migrant workers.

The Government accepted all of the report’s recommendations in principle. Many of the recommendations will require further analysis and stakeholder consultation before they can be implemented.

Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption

The department continued to advise the Government in relation to its commitment to improve the transparency and accountability of registered unions and employer associations. In 2018–19, this included advising on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017 and the Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Workers Benefits) Bill 2017. These Bills passed the House of Representatives and were introduced into the Senate, but lapsed when the 45th Parliament was prorogued. Both bills implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Fair Work Commission annual wage review

Together with the Department of the Treasury, and in consultation with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Social Services, the department prepared the Government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review. The Fair Work Commission’s decision affects around 180,000 employees who are paid the national minimum wage rate and up to 2.2 million employees on award wages.

On 30 May 2019, the Fair Work Commission announced its decision to increase the national minimum wage and award wages by 3.0 per cent. From 1 July 2019, the national minimum wage increased to $740.80 per week ($19.49 per hour).

Pay equity and participation

The department continued to provide policy advice on issues relevant to women’s participation in paid work, including gender pay equity matters, calculation and analysis of the gender pay gap, workplace flexibility, and workplace responses to family and domestic violence.

The department supported implementation of the Government’s commitment to provide national system employees covered by the Fair Work Act 2009 with five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave as part of the National Employment Standards. The new entitlement commenced on 12 December 2018.

In collaboration with the Fair Work Ombudsman, the department developed a one-stop-shop for family and domestic violence workplace resources to help employers support employees who experience family and domestic violence. This fulfils a commitment under the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The resources are available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Safety net, awards policy and superannuation

The department continued to provide policy advice to the Government on safety net, modern awards and default superannuation matters throughout 2018–19, including advice on matters being considered by the FWC as part of the 4-Yearly Review of Modern Awards.

The department assisted with the introduction of the Fair Work Amendment (Right to Request Casual Conversion) Bill 2019. This Bill would have inserted into the National Employment Standards in the Fair Work Act 2009 a protected right for eligible employees to request to convert to full-time or part-time employment. The Bill also provided that employers may refuse a request on reasonable grounds and after consulting the employee, based on facts that were known or reasonably foreseeable at the time of the request. The Bill lapsed with the dissolution of Parliament.

The department also assisted with amendments to the Fair Work Regulations 2009 to provide declaratory clarification of existing legal and equitable general law rights that in certain circumstances employers may make a claim that an employee’s casual loading payments should be offset against certain National Employment Standards entitlements later found to be owing to the employee. The Fair Work Amendment (Casual Loading Offset) Regulations 2018 commenced on 18 December 2018.

Building and construction

The department continued to advise the Government on policy matters relating to the building and construction industry. It also provided ongoing policy support to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), ensuring the correct application and effective operation of the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016.

On 6 December 2018, the Government tabled the report of the independent review of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 (BCIIP Act) and its own response. The review was undertaken in accordance with section 119A of the BCIIP Act. It found, among other matters, that the activities of the ABCC are consistent with its role as a full-service regulator for the building and construction industry, and that the higher penalties applying to the sector should be retained. Key building and construction industry stakeholders, including employer and employee organisations and government agencies, were consulted during the review.

Workplace relations legal advice

During the year, the department provided legal advice to portfolio ministers, portfolio agencies and other stakeholders about the operation of the national workplace relations system; developments arising from relevant court and tribunal decisions in federal, state and territory jurisdictions; and work health and safety and workers’ compensation matters.