ON 15 February 2013, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced the Australian Government’s intention to incorporate new duty in award and agreement model consultation clauses requiring employers to consult employees before changing rosters or working hours.

Minister Shorten said the clauses would require employers ‘before making any decision to change rosters or working hours, to genuinely consult with affected employees about the impact of the changes on their family life’.

Not complying could see employers face potential action through the Fair Work Commission and the courts.

The changes would be implemented through amendments to the model consultation clause in awards and agreements.

This change would be particularly significant for workers covered by awards. At present, consultation obligations are typically only triggered by ‘major’ workplace changes, and there is no specific focus on family responsibilities.

For workers covered by enterprise agreements, the announcement has not made clear whether the change would only apply to the model consultation clause, or also to the requirements in s205 of the Fair Work Act:

…(1) An enterprise agreement must include a term (a consultation term ) that:

(a) requires the employer or employers to which the agreement applies to consult the employees to whom the agreement applies about major workplace changes that are likely to have a significant effect on the employees; and
(b) allows for the representation of those employees for the purposes of that consultation.

If the former, then it is believed that employers would be able to draft consultation clauses for their agreements that omitted this new requirement and provide some compensating benefit instead. If the latter, then all employers would have to expand their consultation obligations to cover this change.

For more information, contact AMMA’s Policy Team on (07) 3210 0313.