Workplace Reform Back on the Agenda

Two bills to make substantial changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 were tabled in the federal Parliament yesterday.

Following its 2016 federal election promises, on 1 March 2017 the Turnbull government tabled the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 (“Vulnerable Workers Bill”) and the Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and other Measures) Bill 2017 (“Repeal Bill”).

The Vulnerable Workers Bill:

  1. Creates a new penalty regime for “serious contraventions” of workplace laws in which the maximum penalties are 10 times the current maximum penalties ($108,000 for an individual and $540,000 for a company). The higher penalty regime will apply to breaches of certain sections of the Act that where the breaches are:
  2. Doubles the penalties for employers who fail to comply with record-keeping and payslips obligations to maximums of $10,800 and $54,000
  3. Makes franchisors and holding companies responsible for underpayments by franchisees or subsidiaries where they “knew or ought reasonably to have known of the contraventions and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent them”
  4. Prohibits employers from unreasonably requiring their employees to make “cash back” payments (e.g. demanding a proportion of their wages be paid back in cash)
  5. Increases the funding of the Fair Work Ombudsman (“FWO”) by $20.1 million and confers additional powers (similar to those held by as ASIC and the ACCC) including the ability to compel a person to provide information and expressly prohibiting anyone from hindering or obstructing an investigator, or giving the FWO false or misleading information or documents

The Repeal Bill:

  1. Removes the requirement for the Fair Work Commission (“FWC”) to conduct four yearly reviews of modern awards from 1 January 2018
  2. Enables the FWC to overlook minor procedural issues or technical errors when considering whether to approve enterprise agreements
  3. Implements changes to complaints-handling processes and conduct of members of the FWC

Robertson Hyetts will continue to monitor the progress of the Bills and keep you informed of any further developments.