Landmark industrial relations reforms become law

ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler and ANMF member Sam Read, who gave evidence this week before the Senate Inquiry into the Industrial Relations Bill.

The Albanese Government’s landmark industrial relations Bill, which paves the way for improved multi-employer bargaining and will help improve working conditions, lift wages, and close the gender pay gap, has passed Parliament.

“By modernising the bargaining system we will see more workplace agreements, delivering better productivity and flexibility for employers and better pay and conditions for workers,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Employment and Workplaces Relations Minister Tony Burke said in a joint statement today.

Other improvements under the new laws include reform of the Better Off Overall Test to make it simpler and fairer, putting gender pay equity at the heart of the Fair Work Act, banning pay secrecy clauses holding back women’s wages, expanding access to flexible rostering arrangements, limiting the use of fixed-term contracts, and giving the Fair Work Commission more powers to arbitrate industrial disputes.

“One of the first things we did as a government was help secure a pay rise for Australia’s lowest paid workers. We have also supported aged care workers to secure a wage rise,” the Government said.

“The Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill is the next step in that commitment – but it won’t be the last. The Government will deliver a second tranche of workplace relations reforms next year to close the loopholes that are undermining job security and wage growth.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) urged MPs and Senators to support the ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill’ over recent months, labelling Australia’s existing bargaining system outdated, unfair, and geared towards severely disadvantaging workers in smaller, care industries, such as nurses and carers in aged care.

Earlier this month, ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler and Victorian nurse Sam Read gave evidence to the Senate Inquiry into the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022, arguing that the legislation was needed as a matter of urgency.

“The crisis in wages crosses all sectors,” Ms Butler told the hearing.

“It is a crisis that has been deepening over the last decade but has now become acute with the impacts of COVID and escalating costs of living hitting workers extremely hard, especially female workers in female-dominated industries.”

After working in general practice and community care settings for the bulk of her 27-year-long nursing career, Ms Read told the Inquiry she had taken up a non-nursing role for the first time in order to achieve a better wage that reflects her skills and capabilities.

She said a decline in wages across the primary care sector was affecting the quality of care provided to communities and forcing many nurses to leave in search of better pay and conditions.

“We leapt without fear for ourselves straight into the COVID response and we continue to do so but we are an exhausted and burnt-out workforce. We need better conditions and better wages to encourage us to stay in that work. We need to recruit new nurses into general practice and community healthcare settings and we also need to keep them in those settings,” she said.

The ACTU congratulated the Government on the passage of the bill, saying it gives working people their first chance at wage growth in more than ten years and marks a significant step towards fixing the country’s “broken bargaining system”.

“This Bill should be a cause for celebration for Australian workers who have been waiting a decade for a pay rise, and have been struggling through deep real wage cuts,” ACTU President Michel O’Neil said.

“With the passing of this Bill, millions of working people will be on a more even footing in negotiations with their employers, and able to take advantage of a new, modern system which is fit for purpose in our economy.

“This Bill is the most significant step forward for working people and their rights in many years, but there is more to do. We look forward to the Albanese Government delivering on its commitments to regulate the gig economy, end rorting of labour hire and casual employment, and end systemic wage theft.”

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