Unpacking Labor’s Secure Australian Jobs Plan
Throughout the election, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was vocal in its support for better working conditions and wages for employees. With a new government now formed, we are starting to see some important industrial relations reforms aimed at improving the working lives of employees across Australia.
Specifically, the ALP has emphasised a focus on improving the security of employment through The Secure Australian Jobs Plan. The Secure Australian Jobs Plan seeks to deliver more secure jobs, better pay and a fairer industrial relations system by enshrining secure work as an objective of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
At present, the Fair Work Commission focuses on productivity and economic growth, the importance of work and family balance, and fairness at work into its decision-making. To ensure workplace legislation remains relevant and acknowledges the growth of new forms of insecure work, the Fair Work Commission will be required to add job security to its considerations under the proposed plan.
Below, employment lawyer Trent Hancock breaks down the key employment and industrial relations elements of the Secure Australian Jobs Plan and what they mean for employees and employers alike.
The gig economy is a rapidly developing area, with ridesharing and delivery services surging in popularity. While working in the gig economy appeals to many individuals because of the flexibility and convenience of balancing work with other commitments, gig workers do not currently have access to the same legal entitlements as employees.
Under the Secure Australian Jobs Plan, the Fair Work Commission’s powers to include “employee-like” forms of work will be extended. This change will allow the Commission to make orders for minimum standards for new forms of work, such as gig work, increasing workers’ access to entitlements and protections currently denied by the existing laws.
The ALP proposes to change the current definition of casual employment, providing a clearer pathway to permanent work.
Recent changes to the Fair Work Act have given employers the right to define someone as a casual employee, even if they work regular, predictable hours. The new government seeks to re-address this shift from substance to form by legislating a fair, objective test to determine when a worker can be legitimately classified as casual.
Labour hire reform
Across a variety of industries, many companies have sought to use labour hire to undercut the negotiated pay and conditions of employees who are employed directly.
The Secure Australian Jobs Plan would uphold the principle that if you work the same job, you should receive the same pay. Under the proposed law changes, workers employed through labour hire or other employment arrangements such as outsourcing would receive no less than those employed directly.
Criminalising wage theft
The ALP has indicated it will legislate to make wage theft a criminal offence. Highlighting that wage theft is being uncovered too often and on a scale that appears to have reached epidemic proportions, criminalising wage theft would serve as an important reminder of the significance that attaches to the correct payment of wages in Australia.
The federal wage theft laws would apply to all forms of remuneration, including loadings, penalty rates, overtime, leave, allowances and superannuation guarantee but will not override existing State and Territory laws where they currently operate.
Under the Secure Australian Jobs Plan, the new government proposes to legislate a right to superannuation within the National Employment Standards (NES). This will give Australian workers the power to pursue their unpaid superannuation as a workplace entitlement, improving their future financial security.
Fixed term contracts can have a legitimate purpose when skills and expertise are required for a specific period, project, or surge in work. However, the ALP believes back-to-back fixed term contracts have become another form of insecure work, making it harder for employees to plan for their future, including securing bank loans or mortgages.
To provide greater security for workers, they propose to limit the number of consecutive fixed-term contracts an employer can offer for the same role, with an overall cap of 24 months.
Portable leave entitlement scheme
As part of their campaign to deliver more secure working conditions, the ALP plans to consult with state and territory governments, unions and industry to develop a portable leave entitlement scheme. Variations of these schemes have existed across Australia for years, but proposed changes would see them broadened in application, allowing workers from certain industries in insecure work to accumulate their leave entitlement when they move from project to project or job to job within a single industry.
As part of a national push to reduce gender-based pay disparity, the ALP says they are committed to strengthening the ability of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for employees in low paid, female-dominated industries. They acknowledge that women are disproportionately impacted by insecure work, specifically low paid work in casual or part-time arrangements, which has contributed to the pay gap sitting at 13.8%.
Several other measures have been proposed to address gender pay disparity, including:
- Implementing all the recommendations of the Respect@Work Report
- Legislating the right to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave
- Legislating a requirement for companies with over 250 employees to report their gender pay gap publicly
- Prohibiting pay secrecy clauses
Abolishing the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) and the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)
The ROC and the ABCC will be abolished, with ALP stating that building and construction workers should have the same rights as other workers.