3 min read

Federal Labor Government’s proposals for workplace relations reform – Part 1

As the Federal Government changes hands, we may expect to see some changes in workplace relations.

Here we look at four key areas in which the Federal Labor Government proposes workplace relations reform:

  • institutional;
  • pay;
  • insecure work; and
  • Commonwealth government employment and procurement.

Institutional change

The Federal Labor Government has pledged to abolish:

  • the Registered Organisations Commission (an entity with responsibility for regulating internal operations of registered organisations that are unions and industry associations); and
  • the Australian Building & Construction Commission.

It also will give the Fair Work Commission (FWC) powers to set wages and conditions for ‘employee-like’ workers. This is aimed at workers who are common law contractors but are vulnerable to exploitation, such as platform delivery workers. The new jurisdiction will be similar to the old Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

The Government has foreshadowed taking steps to achieve a more balanced FWC. One option mooted by commentators is the establishment of a new federal industrial relations court to deal with wage theft and discrimination.


The Federal Labor Government will:

  • amend the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) to make the achievement of gender pay equity an express statutory objective; and
  • enable the appointment of specialist expert panels to improve pay equity and conditions for women working in the care and community sectors.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has called for the abolition of the current 4-yearly review of modern awards, which a Federal Labor Government will most likely oblige.

There may be more emphasis on the needs of the low paid, and to enable the FWC to set medium or long-term targets for minimum wages.

The Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) (WGE Act) will be amended to require companies with more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap publicly.

It has also been suggested that provision will be made to prevent employers from requiring employees to keep their pay secret.

Insecure work

The Federal Labor Government will:

  • amend the FW Act to make job security an object of the FW Act;
  • change the section 15A definition of casual employment inserted into the FW Act last year to prevent an employee being designated a casual in a written contract, even if they work regular, predictable hours;
  • introduce a new National Employment Standard (NES) obliging labour hire employers to afford pay and conditions to employees provided to a host employer that are no less favourable than those that would be required to be paid to the host employer’s employees who are performing the same duties, hours and quantity of work. Host employers will be obliged to treat labour hire workers much the same as direct employees, and to ensure the labour hire employer complies with its NES obligation. Exceptions will apply for host employers that employ fewer than 15 employees for one-off temporary assignments of 3 months or less; and
  • amend the FW Act to limit fixed-term contracts for the same role to two consecutive contracts or a maximum duration, including renewals, of 2 years. Exceptions will apply in limited circumstances, i.e. where fixed-term contracts have a legitimate purpose, such as where the contract is related to a specific time period or project, or to manage an expected but temporary surge in work.

Commonwealth government employment and procurement

The Federal Labor Government will develop and adopt a Secure Australian Jobs Code to establish guidelines for suppliers to the Commonwealth Government with respect to:

  • job security;
  • fair and reasonable wages and conditions; and
  • ethical and sustainable practices, such as ensuring environmentally sustainable outcomes and compliance with the WGE Act.

The Australian public service will only use temporary or fixed-term employment contracts where essential, and will take steps to address its own gender pay gap.

Tune in to next week’s bulletin to find out more.

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