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Coalition election victory – IR changes affecting your business

17 September 2013

The Coalition's election victory on Saturday 7 September heralds changes to key employment and industrial relations policies. While the scope of the changes are modest, there will be a strong overall emphasis on ending the union preferment that existed during the term of the Labor Government between 2007 and 2013.

"The Coalition's Policy to Improve the Fair Work Laws" was released in May 2013, and the key points are as follows:

Anti-bullying: Labor's recent amendments to the Fair Work Act regarding anti-bullying will be maintained, subject to the "worker" who is claiming bullying first seeking preliminary help, advice or assistance from an independent regulator before making an application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The amendments will be expanded to include conduct of union officials towards workers and employers.

  • Adverse action: The Coalition will seek to make it clear that the central consideration about the reason for adverse action is the subjective intention of the person taking the alleged adverse action.
  • Paid parental leave: From 1 July 2015, mothers will be provided with 26 weeks' paid parental leave at the greater of the mother's actual wage or the national minimum wage, plus statutory superannuation, up to an annual $150,000 salary cap (i.e. $75,000). The scheme will be administered by the Family Assistance Office (instead of by the employer) and paid directly to the employee.
  • Superannuation: Labor's proposed increases to compulsory employer contributions will be delayed for 2 years.
  • Unfair dismissal: The FWC will be given clearer powers to dismiss proceedings for circumstances including non-attendance by the applicant without holding a hearing.
  • Individual flexibility agreements (IFAs): The Coalition will seek to remove the ability for unions to restrict the use of IFAs in enterprise agreements and will maintain Labor's proposed extension to the notice period for terminating IFAs from 4 weeks to 13 weeks.
  • Small business employers: Small businesses may be granted immunity from Fair Work Ombudsman pecuniary penalty prosecutions if the employer pays or applies the wrong employment conditions, provided the error was not deliberate and the employer has previously sought advice and help from the Fair Work Ombudsman on the same issue.

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The Coalition has also committed to water down union right of entry; introduce stricter rules for protected action; amend greenfields bargaining to stop vital infrastructure projects being delayed; end the strike first, talk later impact of the Act, and instead require parties to consider productivity before an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement is signed off; create an independent appeal jurisdiction; establish a registered organisations regulator; abolish the Fair Work Building and Construction Unit and bring back the Australian Building and Construction Commission to rein in rogue building unions; and "urgently" review the future of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. It is likely that the Coalition government will also make appointments to the FWC.

The policy speaks explicitly of re-orienting the Fair Work laws to boost productivity and promises a further Productivity Commission review of the Fair Work Act but explicitly rejects a return to statutory individual agreements.

iHR Australia believes that the above proposed changes, if implemented by the Coalition government, are likely to affect many if not most businesses. The passage of the changes will depend in part on a supportive Senate. All employers should make sure that management is aware of upcoming changes and ensure that managers are trained in their requirements.

iHR Australia will be posting articles on new legislative changes and developments. To ensure you stay abreast of these changes and how they can affect your business make sure you are subscribed to iHR Australia's newsletter.

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