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The Federal Government is one step closer to revealing its much-anticipated workplace relations reforms. The reforms are a product of ongoing demand to review and update the Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act), with many lobby groups saying it no longer reflects the needs of Australian businesses and workers. 

The criticisms of the current system have been brought into sharper focus by the onset of the global pandemic—a catalyst for businesses to rethink the nature of workplaces (including the adaption to working from home) and to seek increased industrial relations flexibilities.  

Christian Porter, the Minister for Industrial Relations, alongside former Western Australian Treasurer Tim Marney, have chaired a series of industrial relations working groups, which have brought business and unions together to workshop solutions to the perceived limitations of certain provisions in the FW Act. 

Recently, the Minister announced that reforms would focus on the following four key areas. 

Enterprise bargaining systems with a focus on greenfield agreements 

  • Greenfield agreements allow for the creation of enterprise agreements prior to the engagement of employees. 
  • As the Federal Government has identified the need for large capital-intensive projects as a key part of their proposed economic recovery plan, the reforms will likely attempt to increase the expiry period and implement new controls or renewal periods.

Award complexity

  • Currently, there are 121 awards that apply to employers and employees nationally. Within each award there are multiple classifications, requisites and exemptions. Numerous concerns about the existing award system have been raised, stating it is difficult to decipher and overly complicated. 
  • The restrictive and complex nature of the award system has been said to contribute to underpayment of wages and other entitlements. The Fair Work Ombudsman has cited on numerous occasions the issues that can arise for small businesses in navigating and complying with the complex award system. 

The nature of casual employment in the wake of the Skene and Rossato decisions

  • Uncertainty around long-term casuals continues and recent decisions reiterate the need for clarification as to the definition and entitlements of long-term casual workers. 

Compliance and enforcement 

  • High-profile underpayment claims are a key area of community concern and will likely be addressed in the proposed amendments. 

While confidential working group discussions have ended, the Minister will not disclose specific reforms. However, he has noted that any likely package of reforms will “not be driven by ideology” but rather aim to be pragmatic, appropriately balanced and be realistic in scope.

We anticipate future changes to the FW Act will have a significant impact on employers, so we will keep you updated as these developments unfold. 

Further information

Please contact the Workplace Employment team if you wish to discuss further or have any questions.

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