WHILE 2015 has posed challenges for a federal government attempting to reform aspects of the workplace relations system, some progress has been made in the passing of key bills through parliament.
The following outlines where 10 important pieces of workplace relations legislation sit as 2015 draws to a close.
Legislation that passed in 2015
The following three pieces of legislation passed through parliament in 2015 and are now in effect:
- The Fair Work Amendment Act 2015. This legislation took effect on 27 November 2015, amending the Fair Work Act in relation to greenfields agreement making, protected industrial action and unpaid parental leave. The original bill included another six areas of proposed change that were removed to get the bill through the Senate. However, those six areas have been re-packaged in a new bill that is currently before the Lower House (see further down for details).
- The Construction Industry Amendment (Protecting Witnesses) Act 2015. This legislation took effect from 1 June 2015 extending the operation of the compulsory interview powers of Fair Work Building & Construction until 1 June 2017.
- The Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Employee Share Schemes) Act 2015. This legislation took effect in relation to employee share scheme interest acquired on or after 1 July 2015, delaying the point at which tax is paid on options.
Legislation that failed in 2015
Some significant pieces of proposed workplace relations legislation were voted down in the Senate in 2015, some of them for the second or third time.
The following three bills were “negatived” this year, but some of them could make a re-appearance in future.
- The Shipping Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. This Bill was voted down in the Senate on 26 November 2015. It would have replaced the existing three-tiered licensing system for coastal trading with a single permit system and a new IR framework for seafarers on foreign vessels. The Bill failed because the majority of cross-Benchers did not support it.
- The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 (No 2). This was the Federal Government’s third attempt at getting legislation through the parliament to place greater financial accountability on registered organisations. This version of the bill was voted down in the Senate in August 2015, with two earlier bills voted down in March 2015 and May 2014 respectively.
- The Building & Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013. This Bill was voted down in the Senate in August 2015. It had sought to reinstate the former powers of the Australian Building & Construction Commission (ABCC) along with former provisions of the Building & Construction Industry Improvement Act, with some modifications and additions. Legislative change in this area is, however, understood to remain a priority for the Federal Government going forward.
Legislation currently before parliament
The following four workplace relations bills are still before federal parliament, having made variable progress during 2015. Some of them were first tabled more than 12 months ago.
- The Fair Work Amendment (Remaining 2014 Measures) Bill 2015. The government tabled this bill in federal parliament on 3 December 2015 and it is currently before the Lower House. The bill picks up six areas of proposed reform removed from the Fair Work Amendment Act 2015 in order to get that legislation through the Senate. The six areas the latest bill picks up relate to: annual leave loading on termination; accrual of leave while on workers’ compensation; individual flexibility arrangements (IFAs); transfer of business; union access to workplaces (right of entry); and unfair dismissal hearings and conferences.
- The Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2015. This legislation is yet to pass through the Lower House. Under the bill, parents would no longer be able to receive employer-funded primary carer leave payments in addition to the full amount of nationally-funded paid parental leave. The bill also seeks to remove the administrative burden on employers by removing the requirement to act as “paymaster” in administering government-funded payments.
- The Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014. This bill is currently before the Upper House. It proposes a number of changes to the Fair Work Act including in relation to protected action ballot applications and enterprise agreement approval. Under the bill, the Fair Work Commission would have to refuse a union application for secret ballot orders if its claims were “manifestly excessive” or would have a “significant adverse impact on productivity at the enterprise”.
- The Fair Entitlements Guarantee Amendment Bill 2014. This bill was tabled by the government in September 2014 and is currently before the Senate. It seeks to cap redundancy pay entitlements under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012 at 16 weeks, in line with the Fair Work Act 2009.
Federal parliament has finished sitting for 2015 and resumes on 2 February 2016.
For a detailed summary of the bills referred to above, click here.