Empowering employees: Australia’s new labour laws bring long-awaited protections

In a significant stride toward fair and just workplaces, the Closing Loopholes Bill proposes to usher in a wave of comprehensive labour reforms aimed at bolstering protections for workers across various sectors.

These transformative laws would address a range of issues, from eradicating exploitative practices in the gig economy to ensuring better rights for casual workers seeking permanency.

Below is a snapshot of the Closing Loopholes proposed changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

Better protections for employees:

  • The new laws will set a new definition for ‘employment’ making it harder for any employer to trap a worker in a sham contract where the employee is told they have no rights to minimum wages and conditions.

Better protections for gig economy workers:

  • The gig economy is currently unregulated and rife with exploitation and safety issues, particularly for workers who rely on food delivery apps for a living.
  • The new laws will empower unions to win rights for these workers, including fair pay, insurance and deductions.

Better protections for casuals:

  • Casuals who work regular hours for the same employer will be given rights to become permanent if they want to.
  • This will give these workers access to permanent employment entitlements, such as a stable work roster, annual leave, sick leave and redundancy pay, among other things.

Outlawing wage theft:

  • Companies short-changing their workers has become endemic in Australia, particularly in the agricultural, cleaning, food processing, hospitality and retail industries.
  • For these companies, underpaying workers is part of their business model.
  • If a worker steals from the cash register, they are (rightly) guilty of a criminal offence, but if a business intentionally underpays a worker’s wages, there are no criminal repercussions.
  • The new laws set penalties at $93,900 for breaches of the law, and even higher penalties of $939,000 for ‘serious contraventions’ of the law.
  • Employers who intentionally steal from their workers can also face criminal charges.
  • Employers can be separately fined up to three times the value of an underpayment, making the business model of exploitation no longer viable.

Workplace health and safety:

  • Under the new laws, first responders who experience PTSD will no longer need to prove their psychological injury was caused by their line of work, making it earlier for them to access ComCare claims.
  • Silica dust from synthetic kitchen benchtops is killing Australian tradies, so the news laws will start treating this deadly product in the same way that we treat asbestos.
  • To protect workers from being killed, the new laws will create an industrial manslaughter offence for businesses who recklessly or negligently cause the death of a worker by failing in their health and safety obligations.

Family and domestic violence:

  • Earlier this year, workers had a massive win when the law changed to include paid family and domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards, a right long fought for by union members to protect workers fleeing unsafe relationships.
  • The new laws go further to prevent a business from taking ‘adverse action’ against a worker because that worker has experienced family and domestic violence.

Rights for union delegates:

  • Your workplace union representatives do a tremendous job in fighting for workplace rights, but in doing so, they can be hampered by malicious employers and be targeted because they volunteer to be a union delegate on behalf of their colleagues.
  • Ironically, employers make life difficult for delegates, despite the fact that delegates assist with resolving workplace disputes and make the workplace more harmonious and safe.
  • The new laws will allow delegates to speak to members freely about their workplace rights and provide access to training so they can represent workers better.

The new laws will also prevent an employer from ignoring or lying to a delegate when discussing workplace issues on

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