IR Reform: Closing the loopholes on unfair pay and conditions

L-R ANMF Federal President Sally-Anne Jones, ANMF Federal Secreatary Annie Butler, Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, ANMF Federal Assistant Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp and ANMF Federal Vice President James Lloyd at ANMF's National Biennial Conference in October 2023

Last year heralded the next stage in the federal government’s workplace relations reform agenda to close the loopholes that undermine pay, security and safety for workers.

The Closing Loopholes Bill is the third tranche of industrial relations (IR) legislation to be pursued by the Albanese Labor Government since being elected in 2022. It is an omnibus Bill with 18 proposed amendments to the Fair Work Act2009.

“The ANMF broadly supports the objectives of the proposed legislation,” said ANMF Federal Assistant Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp. “In our view, the current Fair Work Act is inadequate in many ways and this Bill goes a long way to addressing some of those inadequacies.”

The legislation contains four main elements – making wage theft a crime, introducing minimum standards for gig workers, closing the loophole used to undercut the pay and conditions of labour hire workers and properly defining casual work so casuals are not exploited. 

In particular the ANMF supports better support for first responders with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), by requiring insurers to presume PTSD was caused by the job. There are also protections for workers experiencing domestic violence, so employers cannot discriminate against them.

The Bill offers some protections for workers against unscrupulous businesses who continue to use loopholes to drive wages and conditions down, such as when Qantas in 2020 replaced their baggage handlers with lower-paid workers.

It also provides a definition for casual work to help stop the exploitation of employees working regular shifts for long periods of time being kept on as ‘casual’ and missing out on sick leave and other entitlements of full or part-time employed workers.

The Closing Loopholes Bill has been referred to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee, which has held public hearings and is due to report its findings by 1 February 2024.

The ANMF, along with other unions, has given evidence at the hearings, particularly around amendments to improve union delegates’ rights. The ANMF seeks an industrial framework where workplace delegates can be supported to more effectively advance the industrial interests of the union members they represent.

“Our delegates are the lifeblood of our movement. They do so much to build harmonious workplaces where they identify and resolve issues, but the law currently does little to support them in this role,” said Ms Sharp at the public hearing in Melbourne.

Making delegates’ rights clauses standard in awards and enterprise bargaining agreements will be a real game-changer, said Ms Sharp.

The Bill will shift the culture in workplaces where delegates who raise issues on behalf of their colleagues are not ignored. In addition, the ANMF and unions are recommending that delegates be allowed to participate in an induction with a new worker and for training for new delegates.

“Workers need strong representation during a cost-of-living crisis. The protections provided for delegates are vitally important to ensure that worker representatives are able to fulfil their role and effectively represent the interests of all union members. Strong and protected worker representation is key to providing stable and cooperative workplaces,” Ms Sharp said.

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