Tony Burke is the Workplace Relations Minister under the Albanese Labor Government. On November 10th, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment Bill (Secure Jobs, Better Pay), described as one of the most extensive changes to Industrial Relations legislation in two decades, passed the Lower House of parliament.
Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill
Having now passed the lower house the bill is in the hands of the senate, with ACT independent, David Pocock, expected to introduce a series of changes to the laws to address employer concerns. While the bill addresses a number of Labor's election promises, including adding gender pay equity as an objective within the Fair Work Act and placing a ban on pay secrecy, there have been strong reactions from the opposition and business community regarding additional amendments following the Jobs and Skills Summit.
Conversely, ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, stated that such legislation would be required to address Australia's wage crisis:
“The reality of the campaign being run against this bill is that for some employers it will never be the right time for a pay rise...Without changes to the bargaining system, the wage crisis will continue, with working people forced to continue cutting back.”
A key area of the bill was to instate multi-employer bargaining, as opposed to the previous "single-interest stream." This allows the Fair Work Commission to authorise workers, for example in the cleaning, community services or early childhood education sectors, to negotiate collectively with multiple employers.
Amendments were made to this area of legislation in response to concerns that employers would be forced into multi-employer deals. As a result the commercial building and construction industry has been made exempt from the new multi-employer bargaining laws, along with small businesses.
Concerns were also raised by cross bench MPs regarding the "veto" provision for third parties during the negotiation process. Mr. Burke reminded parliament prior to the vote for the bill that although the media had seemingly reported that the veto powers were only available to one side of the negotiation table, "the veto is also on the employer side."
The amendment bill also addresses collective action requiring workers to provide 120 hours notice. Andrew Stewart, a professor of law at Adelaide University, stated that workers across an entire sector could "in theory" take strike action, but in practice this would only be actioned by employees represented by a union.