2019 Federal Election snapshot

The time has come.

Prime Minster Scott Morrison has announced the Federal Election for 18 May 2019. One thing is clear and that is that the outcome of the election will have a significant impact on the industrial relations and employment law landscape for many years to come.    

With further policies to be announced, this is your early snapshot on what industrial relations policies have already been announced by the political parties.

Liberal National Coalition

Following the defeat of the Howard Government in 2007 and the WorkChoices campaign, the Coalition has been hesitant to advocate for any drastic changes to what was put in place by Kevin Rudd with the introduction of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

This is a reminder of some of the changes the Coalition have made since their election in 2013.

  1. Reinstated the ABCC. The Australian Building and Construction Commission is a watchdog dealing with illegal and lawless behavior on construction sites. The ABCC has authority to investigate complaints or suspected contraventions of workplace laws and commence court action to enforce and ensure compliance.
  2. Passed the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth). This Act requires entities that have an annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million to report on the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and operations. It also requires them to discuss the actions they plan to take to address those risks. These statements are required to be signed by a responsible member of the entity and will be available to the public.
  3. Legislate for all employees to be entitled to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year. Read our blog here about a potential paid domestic violence leave scheme.
  4. Modernise the right to entry scheme by amending the Fair Work Regulations which allows union officials to enter workplaces. The changes now require rights of entry permits to include a photo and signature of the permit holder, and the conditions of its use.
  5. Protect vulnerable workers through the introduction of the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 (Cth). In response to various scandals such as the widespread and systematic underpayments at 7-Eleven franchises, the Act was introduced to prohibit cashback arrangements where employees were forced to give back part of their wages to their employer. This Act also increased penalties for the deliberate and systematic underpayment of employees.

Here is what they have indicated they will implement if re-elected.

  1. Introduce criminal sanctions for the most serious forms of deliberate exploitation of workers such as wage underpayments. See our two part series here and here on the difficulties of introducing criminal penalties for employee underpayments.
  2. Clamp down on sham contracting by introducing tougher penalties and funding a dedicated sham contracting unit within the Fair Work Ombudsman.
  3. Establish a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme to ensure compliance and transparency in the labour hire industry in high risk sectors.

Labor Party

Opposition leader Bill Shorten from the Australian Labor Party has already announced they would:

  1. Abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
  2. Increase the Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for workers in the retail, hospitality and fast-food sectors that were previously reduced by a decision of the Fair Work Commission. Visit our article here which notes some significant concerns we have about this policy.
  3. Regulate the minimum wage to be more aligned to a conceptual “living” wage.
  4. Introduce legislation that would require companies with more than 1,000 employees to publicly reveal their gender pay gap.
  5. Amend the Fair Work Act to prohibit the use of secrecy clauses in their employment contracts and require publicly listed companies to report the ratio of CEO pay to the median worker.
  6. Require businesses to pay the Superannuation Guarantee for employees that are currently exempt if they are paid less than $450 per month. The plan is to reduce the current thresholds by $100 (per month) each year until the threshold is effectively abolished.
  7. Ending the freeze of the Superannuation Guarantee at 9.5% and accelerating the increase of the Superannuation Guarantee to 12%.

Australian Greens

In the event of a potential minority government as seen after the 2010 Federal Election, according to their website, the Greens would also advocate for the following industrial relations reform:

  1. Introduce at least four additional national public holidays, with the aim of ensuring at least one public holiday per calendar month.
  2. Legislate to require publicly listed companies to have workers’ representatives on the companies’ Board of Management.
  3. Implement executive salary capping, starting with the public service, with salary savings to be directly passed onto lowest paid employees in that organization.
  4. Enact a legislated minimum wage floor no less than 60% of the median Australian full-time wage.
  5. Compel employers to convert casual employees to permanent work after 6 months when requested by the employee. Currently, employees are able to request for conversion and the employer is able to decline this request if it is not feasible to do so. Visit our article here and here to examine the realities of the Greens’ proposals.
  6. Increase annual leave to a minimum of five weeks for all employees.
  7. Regulate for a 4-day working week.
  8. Push for industry-wide bargaining to allow unions the ability to negotiate with multiple employers across an entire industry instead of per enterprise or workplace.

All major political parties, including the Coalition remain reluctant to publicly advocate for significant industrial relations reform that will increase flexibility for businesses. As election day looms, there will be more policy announcements and promises made. Stay tuned for further updates and the upcoming industrial relations reform of the incoming government.

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Brendon Zhu is currently a paralegal with experience in industrial relations, workplace investigations and policy development. Brendon’s interest in employment law stems from a belief that all organisations and its employees, whether they are a private enterprise, a not-for-profit charity or a public-sector government department are delivering a good or service that seeks to improve the livelihood of society. Having experienced prior work in small business and not-for-profit organisations, Brendon enjoys developing workplace solutions that is appropriate to the commercial needs and context of the client and their industry. Outside of his legal work, Brendon is a Ward Councillor at Willoughby City Council and is identifying areas to reduce red tape within the inside machinery of local government. The ideas of policy reform and appreciating the realities of running a business in Australia are common themes in his writing.

1 Comment

  1. Brendon’s article is well written, succinct and in plain language.It highlights the differences between the parties we are to choose from and at the same time gives us food for thought on how some of the more extravagant suggestions will impact on our nation as one that is competitive on the world stage.
    Governments do not create wealth and it is only business that can do this. If some of the Labor or Green suggestions for change get up, our overseas debt will be unsustainable and our standards of living will gradually fall to the lowest common denominator.
    As to the promise of raising wages rates it is, in my opinion, a very dangerous move for any Government to engage in this past time. The Fair Work Commission and its predecessors have managed this very well basing their decisions on the evidence provided to them by the various parties and making their final decisions on merit rather than emotion and ideology. Australians will do well to think carefully before they put the number 1 ina box on the ballot papaer

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