The Omnibus Industrial Relations Bill (“the Bill”) was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday 3rd February and quickly picked up criticism surrounding key components of the Bill. Set to help revive the economy following the hit of the pandemic, the Bill reforms the Fair Work Act, specifically targeting the operation of the Fair Work Commission, the gig economy and enterprise agreements.
Key areas of the Bill include: its redefinition of a “casual employee” to be an employee who accepts an offer of employment in circumstances were their employer made “no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work”; its proposal to reform the Modern Award System by simplifying additional hours agreements as well as flexible work directions; its proposal for a two-year exemption which prevents individuals from being negatively affected by material in enterprise agreements (also known as the Better Off Overall Test); and its provisions which aim to prevent non-compliance to workplace laws within a workplace.
Academics’ submission to the Senate
In response to the Bill, a group of academic experts (“the Experts”) in the field of labour law provided their comments on the Bill. This included their support of a couple of proposals within the Bill, specifically that in relation to points addressing compliance and enforcement. There were however many key reforms that they did not support, notably that relating to awards and agreement-making. The academics also claimed that the Bill fails to deal with current pressing issues of wage-stagnation, insecurity of work and entrenched inequalities, and will increase administrative costs within workplaces.
With respect to casual employment, the Experts agreed with the Bill’s statutory definition of casual employment, however, they believed the definition somewhat entrenched the practice of long-term casuals performing work of a full or part time nature. Finally, one additional area of opposition came in relation to the proposed exemption to the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) contained in the Bill. The Experts claimed that this exemption “would tear a gaping hole in the award safety net” and thus would fail to provide any additional support to workers who have been affected by COVID-19.
In preparation for the upcoming election, Labor has promised an alternative approach to the gig economy, in response to the Coalition’s Bill. This alternate approach seeks: to better define “casual employment” to prevent casual employees performing in roles of part-time or full-time nature; to put forward “portable entitlements”, allowing those in the gig economy to carry annual, sick and long service leave into new roles; to adopt a “same job, same pay” principle; and to provide the Fair Work Commission the power to intervene where necessary to confirm the rights and obligations of emerging job types.