In light of the Labor Party’s recent win in the Federal Election last month, here is a summary of some of the Labor Party’s key Industrial Relations Policy promises they brought forward in their campaign:
Wage Rises to Match Inflation
During his campaign, now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to back wage growth to match the rate of inflation. With inflation last reported at 5.1%, and nominal wage growth only at 2.4%, Australians have been experiencing a decline in wages in real terms. Therefore, Albanese confirmed in a press conference that minimum wage growth should at reach 5.1% because “people should not go backwards” when living costs were on the rise. This sentiment was supported by economist, Angela Jackson, who indicated that such low wage growth may result in weakened consumer sentiment and lower spending in the economy.
However, this policy promise has sparked considerable criticism from the opposition and employers concerning the economy and increased costs for businesses. Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Andrew McKellar maintained that “small business cannot afford it” and pointed out that such a large spike in wage growth has potential to feed back into inflation, hence exacerbating the original issue. The Australian Industry Group instead called for a modest 2.5% increase in the minimum wage.
Another one Labor’s central IR focuses was to make jobs more secure in a time where casual work, gig work and short-term contracts are becoming increasingly popular. Labor has committed to amending the definition of ‘casual employment’ in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) so that employees working regular shifts for a defined period will be considered part-time or full-time staff.
In their policy statement, ‘Secure Australian Jobs’, Labor maintained that “the Fair Work Commission will have to put job security at the heart of its decision-making”. However, this has spurred a response from many among the opposition and within the IR industry pointing out that “secure work” is an ambiguous term with no official definition.
Albanese announced that he will convene an employment summit, where Unions and businesses will meet this September to discuss how to improve Australia’s industrial relations. Albanese described it as a chance to “identify barriers to full employment, tackle job insecurity and create a new agenda for national productivity”.
The agenda of these forums will likely centre around reforms in enterprise bargaining, legislation on wage theft, simplification of the better off overall test, job security, and wage growth.
Criminalising Wage Theft
Labor have confirmed that they intend to will consult with states and territories, unions and employers to develop laws that criminalise wage theft nationwide.
Wage theft costs Australian workers an estimated $1.35 billion every year. It happens across industries – from construction to health care, from retail to accommodation – and disproportionately affects vulnerable workers like women, young people and migrants.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s frustration over big employers self-reporting underpayments to employees was made clear in a recent Senate committee report. The FWO lamented the procession of corporates self-disclosing and says it emphasised the “widespread nature of wage theft in Australia“.
Wage theft accusations have been levelled at some of Australia’s biggest employers and best-known brands, among them Wesfarmers, Coles and Woolworths, Qantas, National Australia Bank and the Commonwealth Bank. Not-for-profit organisations also haven’t escaped. Allegations have been levelled at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The National Library of Australia, and even government departments.
Same Job, Same Pay
Federal IR minister, Tony Burke has put closing the gender pay gap at the forefront of his agenda.
Fresh from being sworn in this morning as the Albanese Labor Government’s minister for employment and workplace relations, Burke singled out the gender pay gap as a “top priority“.
“Women should not be paid less than men – it’s that simple,” he said.
Among Labor’s gender equity policies heading into the recent federal election, the party said it would strengthen the FWC’s ability to order pay increases for workers in low paid, female dominated industries.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also confirmed that he will set about implementing an agenda that includes putting in place all of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ remaining recommendations in her Respect@Work report and bringing forward its policy to extend and increase child care subsidies and its aged care policy, which supports an unspecified pay rise in the female-dominated sector. Jenkins in part recommended amending the Sex Discrimination Act’s objects to include achieving “substantive equality between women and men“.
Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
The Albanese Government has created a new Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, reversing the Morrison Government’s 2019 decision to shift IR into the Attorney-General’s Department.
The new department will be created to implement and administer the Government’s workplace relations, jobs, skills and training agenda.
These changes will take effect on 1 July 2022.
If you have any questions about these reforms and proposals may affect you or your business, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Daphne Klianis or Josh Hoggett. For regular news updates, articles and tips follow our LinkedIn.