Jobs and Skills Summit 2022 – What employers need to know

15 September 2022
Siobhan Mulcahy, Partner, Melbourne Diana Diaz, Special Counsel, Melbourne

As promised in its election campaign, the Albanese Government held its Jobs and Skills Summit at Parliament House in Canberra on 1–2 September 2022. The aim of the Summit was to bring stakeholders together to work on challenges and opportunities facing the Australian labour market and economy.

A set of outcomes have been announced following the two-day Summit, and consultation is now underway with businesses, unions and other stakeholders in relation to proposed changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and other measures such as the role of the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The process is being overseen by Natalie James, the former Fair Work Ombudsman.

Some of the key proposed changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 to come out of the summit include:

  • Ensuring workers and businesses have flexible options for reaching agreements, including removing unnecessary limitations on access to single and multi-employer agreements.
  • Expanding the FWC’s powers to ‘proactively’ help workers and business reach agreements that benefit them, particularly new entrants, and small and medium business.
  • Ensuring all workers and businesses can negotiate in good faith for agreements that benefit them, including small businesses, women, care and community services sectors and First Nations people.
  • Allowing businesses and workers who already successfully negotiate enterprise-level agreements to continue to do so.
  • Removing unnecessary complexity for workers and employers, including making the Better Off Overall Test simple, flexible and fair.
  • Ensuring the process for agreement terminations is fit for purpose and fair, and sunsets ‘zombie’ agreements.
  • Providing stronger protections for workers against adverse action, discrimination and harassment.
  • Improving access to flexible work arrangements and access to unpaid parental leave to enable families to share work and caring responsibilities.
  • Providing proper support for employer bargaining representatives and union delegates.

These changes will also complement commitments that the Albanese Government has already made, including:

  • Setting an objective test in legislation for determining when a worker is a casual employee.
  • Extending the powers of the FWC to include ’employee-like’ forms of work, allowing it to make orders for minimum standards for new forms of work, such as gig work.
  • Enhancing the Fair Work Act compliance and enforcement framework, including the small claims procedure through increasing civil penalties for breaches.
  • Updating the National Employment Standards to provide ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave.
  • Limiting the use of fixed term contracts.
  • Criminalising wage theft at a national level.
  • Legislating ‘same job, same pay’.
  • Prohibiting pay secrecy clauses, giving workers the right to disclose their remuneration if they wish.
  • Implementing recommendation 28 of the Respect@Work Report by expressly prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace and enabling the FWC to resolve workplace sexual harassment disputes.

In addition to the abovementioned immediate actions, the government has also identified many areas for further work in the longer term, including:

  • Supporting the FWC to build cooperative workplace relationships and strengthening its compliance and enforcement framework.
  • Enabling workers to challenge unfair contractual terms.
  • Ensuring workers have reasonable access to representation to address genuine safety and compliance issues.
  • Establishing a right to superannuation under the National Employment Standards.
  • Considering possible improvements to Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards.
  • Initiating a consultation and research process considering the impact of workplace relations settings (such as rostering arrangements) on work and care, including childcare.

The above changes and areas for further work represent only a short summary of some of the outcomes of the Jobs Summit, with many more announced including changes to the skills and training framework, changes to the migration system to address skills shortages and measures to promote equal opportunities.

The proposed changes may develop quickly and many will seek to significantly reshape the industrial relations landscape, so it is important for employers to keep up to date with the latest while ensuring that they remain compliant with the current framework.

The Workplace Advisory and Disputes Team at Gadens regularly provides advice about employment contracts, enterprise bargaining and entitlements and is able to assist you with any queries.

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Authored by:
Siobhan Mulcahy, Partner
Diana Diaz, Special Counsel
Carlyna Yap, Lawyer

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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