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9 September 2022
Kingston Reid’s Jobs Summit Fringe Festival – Wrap Up
September 9, 2022

The Kingston Reid Jobs Summit Fringe Festival provided a unique opportunity for clients and friends of Kingston Reid to gain insights into the issues being debated up the hill at the Commonwealth Government’s Jobs + Skills Summit. Our event brought together a range of opinion leaders with diverse views on the debate over workplace relations reform in Australia.

We were fortunate to have speakers and panellists from across the entire political spectrum from business, Government and unions, along with expert opinions on economics and from those who prosecute, defend and determine rights and responsibilities in the workplace relations system.

  1. It’s the Economy Stupid – Chris Richardson, Rich Insight

Our event was turbo charged from the beginning with a presentation of stark economic reality from renowned economist Chris Richardson. While the title of the presentation called up the famous mantra coined during Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign in 1992, perhaps it ought to have been called “It’s Productivity, Stupid”, as the key underlying message was that real wage growth will be doomed unless productivity can be increased.

Mr Richardson:

  • observed that the Jobs + Skills Summit had missed an opportunity by focussing on how to decide who gets a share of the pie rather than making the pie bigger;
  • foretells that the type of reform to workplace relations legislation being floated prior to the Jobs + Skills Summit created a risk that wages will chase prices, inflation will be too high, and real wages will not improve; and
  • busted a myth by showing that international migration to Australia creates jobs; it does not take jobs away.

While the relative lack of focus on productivity at the Jobs + Skills Summit was disappointing, the sensible decision to lift the cap on skilled migration showed that good economic policy can translate to good Government policy through the Jobs + Skills Summit process. He also told us that ideally wages should not rise above 3.5% per annum if we want to avoid increased inflation.

  1. The Union Perspective – Scott Connolly, Assistant National Secretary, ACTU

As a vocal contributor to the Jobs + Skills Summit and a strong advocate for reform, we were pleased to have the benefit of insights from Sally McManus’ Second Lieutenant, Scott Connolly.

The ACTU position is that productivity gains are being made but that they are not being shared with workers. Mr Connolly said:

  • the ACTU believes the labour market should be re-regulated;
  • workers are not benefiting from national income and productivity gains;
  • industrial action is necessary for multi-employer bargaining but with a “measured approach”; and
  • there are significant problems with skills and training infrastructure and that Jobs and Skills Australia should have a bigger role in the development of skills and training.

The Government has been careful not to describe its “immediate actions” from the Jobs + Skills Summit as re-regulation of the labour market, but the reform contemplated involves more, rather than less, regulation. The reaction of business to Government election commitments and statements at the Government Jobs + Skills Summit suggests there is wide support for a greater role for Jobs and Skills Australia.

  1. The Political Perspective – Adam Bandt MP, Australian Greens

In the first of our Political Perspectives, the Greens used the opportunity of Leader Adam Bandt’s speech to announce the party’s proposed industrial relations reforms.

Mr Bandt said that the Greens hold the balance of power and will be taking a “no compromises” approach to the reform proposals being put forward by the Government, threatening to withhold support for any legislation that comes out of the Jobs + Skills Summit unless the Government agrees to their demands.

This strong position flows from a party view that reforms need to take back the power from corporations because real wages are declining, and the power balance needs to be re-shifted.

Mr Bandt announced the Greens position that:

  • the Greens support an overhaul of the bargaining system, and that greater control needs to be given to workers by reviewing hours of work and insecure employment provisions in the Fair Work Act;
  • low paid wages need to be lifted to 60% of the full-time median wage;
  • the Government needs to reduce the cost of essentials (including free child-care) in order to support workforce participation;
  • there needs to be an increase in accessibility to union membership;
  • gig and casual workers should receive sick and holiday pay in addition to the current casual loading; and
  • legislation should be amended to include a presumption that all jobs are permanent unless there are sound demonstrable reasons otherwise.

Mr Bandt raised concerns that the Jobs + Skills Summit is “Half a Hawke” in that the Government has blocked any discussion on tax.

While the Greens position could be seen as posturing aimed at blunting proposed reforms that are contrary to its policy position, it’s no compromise position on issues such as climate policy suggest that an “all or nothing” approach is a definite possibility. Keen observers will note the Greens are actually one vote short of holding the balance of power in the Senate, so a decision by the Greens not to support legislation plays the crossbenchers (and even the Coalition) into the game.

  1. The Union Perspective – Daniel Walton, National Secretary, AWU

While reported comments before the Jobs + Skills Summit about union membership for newly arrived migrants might have suggested we would be hearing some controversial proposals from Daniel Walton, the AWU position is arguably much closer to the business position than that of the ACTU, and certainly that of the Greens.

By focussing on a broader agenda than industrial regulation, the AWU appears to be reaching for the centre ground and consensus with business. While careful to caution there is no “silver bullet”, Mr Walton told us he views the three big issues for the Summit to address are:

  • energy (in the context of the transition from fossil fuels to renewables);
  • industrial relations reform; and
  • skilled migration.

Other policy areas that Mr Walton covered included:

  • addressing the higher cost of living, inflation and productivity and the challenge of increasing real wage growth;
  • a restoration of balance to appointments to the Fair Work Commission;
  • making enterprise bargaining simpler;
  • fixing a “flaw” in current modern award and enterprise agreement consultation obligations, which only trigger once a definite decision to introduce major change has been made; and
  • investment in training.

Many of these matters were found in the statement of “immediate actions” published by the Government after the close of the Jobs + Skills Summit on Friday which suggests that the AWU is close to policy makers.

One area of potential difference is in looking to migration to address skills shortages. The AWU points to the fact of apprenticeship commencement numbers increasing, but apprenticeship completion numbers are diminishing. Flowing from this, Mr Walton said that looking around the world for skills is “short sighted” and that as a nation “we need to restore our own skills”.

Mr Walton observed that employers should see this period as an opportunity for collaboration and consultation with their employees and unions.

  1. Future of Work Panel

Jordan O’Reilly, Co-founder & CEO, Hireup

Luke Webber, Managing Director, Labourpower

Michael Kaine, National Secretary, TWU

Dr Alex Veen, Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney Business School

This panel produced a fascinating discussion on areas of workplace relations regulation and reform in the area of labour hire, independent contractors and the gig economy which are changing at an extremely rapid pace. Our panellists told us that:

  • the definition of “insecure work” is a live question and means different things to different stakeholders;
  • the gig economy creates a different working environment where platforms take a step back and much more control is placed in the hands of consumers and workers about how work is performed;
  • the gig economy is here to stay, and there needs to be appropriate regulation of non-standard work performed within this space;
  • while the majority of gig work is conducted under independent contractor arrangements, there is a space for effective employment frameworks if modern awards are less rigid;
  • there are emerging trends where workers want to choose how, and when, they work and do not want to be bound to one employer on a full time basis;
  • technology and artificial intelligence will continue to change the shape of work, both in terms of the labour required and how that labour is engaged; and
  • since the inclusion of “casual conversion” in legislation, and a wide range of industrial instruments, anecdotal evidence suggests that a tiny proportion of employees (sometimes as low as 2%) are choosing to convert from casual to permanent.

Michael Kaine from the TWU noted that the transport economy attracts some of the most vulnerable workers, but equally has represented independent owner-drivers since the union’s inception, illustrating that the TWU does not have any inherent objection to non-standard work.  That does not mean that we necessarily need to shoe-horn workers into employment relationships or redefine the employment relationship. If we can find a system that permits flexibility with appropriate protections, then we should do it. That system must provide appropriate and fair remuneration (mechanisms for workers to recover costs and get a return on their investment / risk) and other support networks (workers compensation, superannuation, safety requirements, etc). One option is an “owner-driver” type system like in NSW.

Jordan O’Reilly from Hireup, a digital platform connecting people living with a disability with support workers, was concerned that the gig economy could be viewed as a race to the bottom in a two-speed system (regulated employment relationships vs non-regulated independent contractor relationships). Flexibility is key, but the flexibility you need differs from sector to sector so there needs to be sector-specific approaches. We have found employment relationships work well in the disability care sector. However, it is important there is an equal playing field, which requires certainty from Government.

Dr Alex Veen from the University of Sydney Business School shared the findings of his research which found that it is not as simple as just passing on costs to consumers.  Research indicates that platforms are generally dominated by cost-sensitive consumers. Whilst the consumers generally do not understand the terms and conditions that apply to gig workers and when they’re informed about them, they think that they’re unfair, they’re also only prepared to pay an additional $0.85 – $1.25 for the services. It is a delicate balance to find a solution to, and we might benefit from looking at more holistic approaches in other jurisdictions.

Luke Webber from Labourpower observed that the recruitment industry is not seeing a race to the bottom. Businesses cannot attract workers on modern award rates and are having to pay workers more. Flexibility appears to be just as important as stability. Every year casual employees are offered the opportunity to convert to permanent employment, but the majority do not take up the offer, in fact, a number of workers who have converted to permanent employment have subsequently requested to convert back to casual employment.

  1. The Political Perspective – Senator Tony Sheldon, ALP

The Jobs + Skills Summit, and the whitepaper that is proposed to flow from it, was a core part of the ALP’s policy platform entering into the Federal election which saw the party take Government. In gaining an understanding of what would be discussed up on the hill immediately following the Festival, we heard from Senator Tony Sheldon.

Senator Sheldon was able to give some insights into the drivers for Government policy and how discussions at the Summit were likely to unfold. Senator Sheldon told us that the big issues for the Government are:

  • single enterprise bargaining is outdated, and greater access multi-enterprise bargaining is needed;
  • low paid and highly feminised industries should be the focus of multi-enterprise bargaining;
  • the issues are low real wage growth and the need to “plug” loopholes in insecure work such gig, casual and labour hire work; and
  • there is a need to abolish the ABCC as it negatively impacts on productivity.

Senator Sheldon acknowledged that “We are not going to agree on every single thing but that is ok. We are cementing ideas for the future.”  This reference to laying the ground for future reform suggests that the ALP is playing a long game and sees the Jobs + Skills Summit as a starting point for a reform process rather than an event where consensus will immediately be achieved. This was reflected in the “immediate actions” and “further discussions” approach taken by the Government in the Jobs + Skills Summit Outcomes document published after the Summit.

  1. [email protected] – Plaintiff Perspectives – Josh Bornstein, Maurice Blackburn

True to the old adage, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, Josh Bornstein, Head of Employment and Industrial Relations of applicant and union law firm, Maurice Blackburn, provided Fringe Summit attendees with a rare insight into the thinking of a lawyer whose name would otherwise ordinarily be at the bottom of letters of demand.

Mr Bornstein gave us an overview of his experience in acting for plaintiffs in the rapidly changing area of workplace discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment.

  • There are opportunities to understand what the introduction of a positive duty to take all reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace will be at the Federal level from the Victorian experience. Noting that Victoria’s anti-discrimination legislation has incorporated a positive duty since 2010. This positive duty is likely to incorporate an expectation that employers have prevention plans in place.
  • Discussions about the outlawing of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) need to carefully balance the rights and needs of victims of sexual harassment, taking into account that many of Mr Bornstein’s clients seek the privacy and confidentiality that an NDA offers. NDAs should be subject to time limits or scope for the victim to otherwise not be constrained from discussing their experiences when they are ready to do so.
  • Mr Bornstein also highlighted that there will be more arrows in the quiver for the prosecution of sexual harassment and related discrimination claims, with the Australian Human Rights Commission to gain powers to make representatives claims, lifting the need for individuals to prosecute their own claims in all cases.
  1. [email protected] Panel

Kate Eastman AM SC

Lindall West, Managing Director, Ombpoint

Kristen Hilton, Former Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commissioner

This panel focussed on the potential impact of incoming legislative measures and the practical steps that businesses can take to make workplaces better and minimise harm.

  • Employers need to recognise the power that comes with the positive duty as an important first step in taking leadership to consider all reasonable steps to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace
  • A “prevention plan” is an important element of satisfying the positive duty. It is not a single policy document. Rather it requires employers to review their businesses and culture.
  • The new concept of sex-based harassment and gender stereotyping goes beyond the concept of sexual harassment and is intended to capture micro-wrongs and long-standing gender-based stereotyping.
  • NDAs can maintain confidentiality and privacy if that is what the impacted person chooses. Blanket bans are not appropriate and remove bargaining power held by women in seeking a settlement of their claims.
  • Speak-up culture is part of protecting victims. Employees raising issues, and employers responding effectively at an early stage, are important elements of this.
  • Services like Ombpoint provide a valuable first line of protection by triaging issues when they first arise, potentially resolving them before unnecessary escalation but also allowing space for important issues to be escalated.
  • Diversity in the workplace is going to be an economic lever and opportunity.

A core message out of the panel was the need to ensure your businesses are ready for the legislative changes including the introduction of a positive duty. Having the engagement of your Boards, managers and employees will be key.

  1. The Political Perspective – Jacquie Lambie, The Jacquie Lambie Network

While not an attendee at the Government’s Jobs + Skills Summit, Senator Lambie spoke to our event and made it clear that any reform arising out of the Jobs + Skills Summit will require her support, or the support of another of her crossbench colleagues. Senator Lambie raised concerns that those making political donations would have the loudest voices when considering the legislative reforms to flow from the Summit, reinforcing her general concerns that reform around the regulation of political donations is sorely needed.

Senator Lambie pointed out:

  • there was a risk that the Government summit would make a lot of noise but not actually solve the real problem of cost of living that was impacting all of the people she represents;
  • the unions do not necessarily speak for all working people, and decisions made out of the Summit are made by people in places like Melbourne for people on their doorstep, not for the people in the communities she represents;
  • we need fewer “roundtables” because they “go round and round and nothing gets done”, we need greater consensus and action on consensus. The Government needs to listen more to community and less to lobbyists and those who pay to be heard;
  • political donations should be prevented and replaced with a system of solely public funding;
  • in north-western Tasmania, the heart has been ripped out of TAFEs which were previously a hub of the community, and the impact on the skills held by members of the community had been devastating.
  1. The Political Perspective – Senator Michaelia Cash, Coalition

When invitations for the Government’s Jobs + Skills Summit started arriving, Opposition leader Peter Dutton was quick to send back the Coalitions “will not be attending” RSVP card.

This did not mean that we were left without the views of the Coalition on industrial relations reform. Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Michaelia Cash, set out the Coalition’s concerns with the agenda being taken by the Government to the Jobs + Skills Summit.

Senator Cash told the Fringe Summit that genuine reform that makes it easier for businesses to find workers would be embraced, and pointed to the reforms that the Coalition had achieved when in Government, including:

  • banning corrupting benefits for unions and establishing the Registered Organisations Commission to restore integrity for members who pay their union dues in good faith;
  • protecting vulnerable workers;
  • re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission;
  • protecting the role of thousands of volunteer fire fighters in Victoria; and
  • abolishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal with the support of small business owners; and
  • passing legislation to clarify the status of casual workers and prevent “double dipping” on entitlements.

Senator Cash highlighted the Coalition’s policy to increase access to work for pensioners (without affecting their pension payments). This became a recommendation that was adopted by the Government at the end of the Jobs + Skills Summit. She also:

  • reaffirmed the coalition’s support of the ABCC and criticism of the Government’s action in defunding the body and stripping the provisions of the Building Code;
  • noted the economic impact of current strike action at Sydney Trains and ports as an indicator of the kind of disruption that would be caused by the industrial relations changes being contemplated by the Government Summit, particularly sector bargaining;
  • reaffirmed the Coalition’s commitment to 6-year maximum nominal terms for greenfields enterprise agreements on major projects; and
  • pointed out that changing the test for casual employment, legislating “same job, same pay” and making labour hire unworkable would have a damaging effect on business, particularly small business.
  1. Fringe Festival Full Bench

Former Deputy President Greg Smith AM

Former Deputy President Geoff Bull

Former Commissioner Danny Cloghan

The proceedings in the first instance reflected a diversity of views on what were the key priorities for the Summit to achieve. A Full Bench of Former Members of the Fair Work Commission was accordingly convened, and points of appeal put to Former Deputy President Greg Smith AM, Former Deputy President Geoff Bull, and Former Commissioner Danny Cloghan for their consideration and determination.

  • In answer to the appeal question of what “productivity” means to the tribunal, Former DP Greg Smith AM observed that the Australian Industrial Relations Commission took an active role in ensuring productivity returns in the settlement of industrial disputes and questioned whether it was appropriate for productivity to be removed as a factor to which the Commission should give active consideration in its decision making outside of the annual minimum wage decision.
  • In answer to the appeal question of whether bargaining is broken, there were split views. Some expressed that it can work well but depends on the attitude of the parties. All considered the current tests applied for approval of agreements required reform and that the Commission should have a greater role in assisting parties to resolve deadlocks.
  • In answer to whether the Commission should be made more accessible by conducting hearings in shopping centres, the Full Bench unanimously dismissed the appeal. We were also relieved that an appeal to include lawyers in Fair Work Commission proceedings was also unanimously upheld.
  1. Where to now?

The Government closed the Jobs + Skills Summit on Friday in Canberra with a statement that it will take “immediate” action to update the Fair Work Act. This is in addition to a list of what it has described as “complementary existing commitments” that it promised to deliver at the election and, in many cases, are already in bills that are before parliament.

It is important to remember that this immediate action starts with business, union and Government consultation and must be passed by the parliament, including an upper house where the Government needs the support of the Coalition or a combination Greens and a crossbencher to get legislation through. We heard from representatives of these three groups, and it suggests that support is anything but guaranteed.

For those who attended the Kingston Reid Jobs Summit Fringe Festival we hope that you found it as informative and thought provoking as we did. For those who did not we hope that we have captured some of the highlights here and would of course be pleased to discuss anything that has piqued your interest further with you.

 

Alice DeBoos
Managing Partner
+61 2 9169 8444
[email protected]
Duncan Fletcher
Partner
+61 8 6381 7050
[email protected]
Steven Amendola
Partner
+61 3 9958 9606
[email protected]
Shelley Williams
Partner
+61 7 3071 3110
[email protected]
Christa Lenard
Partner
+61 2 9169 8404
[email protected]
Michael Stutley
Partner
+61 8 6381 7060
[email protected]
Katie Sweatman
Partner
+61 3 9958 9605
[email protected]
Liam Fraser
Partner
+61 7 3071 3113
[email protected]
Lucy Shanahan
Partner
+61 2 9169 8405
[email protected]
Beth Robinson
Partner
+61 8 6381 7064
[email protected]
Brendan Milne
Partner
+61 3 9958 9611
[email protected]
Michael Mead
Partner
+61 2 9169 8428
[email protected]
6 September 2022
Jobs and Skills Summit – Immediate actions but fuzzy detail
September 6, 2022

The Jobs and Skills Summit closed on Friday in Canberra with the Government saying it is committed to “immediate” action to update the Fair Work Act. This is in addition to a list of what it has described as ‘complementary existing commitments’ that it committed to at the election and, in many cases, are already in bills that are before parliament.  Here are links to previous Insights: [email protected] and gender equality and Post-election Insight.

Before we throw our current copies of the Fair Work Act in the bin, remember that this immediate action starts with business and government consultation and must be passed by the parliament, including an upper house where the government needs the support of the Coalition or a combination Greens and a crossbencher to get it through. Those who attended the Kingston Reid Job Summit Fringe event in Canberra heard from representatives of these three groups and it suggests that support is anything but guaranteed.

The fact that the change will not be instantaneous is important because there is a lack of clear detail in what the government has announced.

The Jobs + Skills Summit Outcomes document published by the Government says that it will update the Fair Work Act to create a “simple, flexible and fair new framework”.

Below we have set out what the government has said, suggested what the government might mean and provide our view on what this could mean for you.


What the government has said:

A new framework that: “Ensures all workers and businesses can negotiate in good faith for agreements that benefit them, including small businesses, women, care and community services sectors, and First Nations people.

What the government might mean:

This is a clue that the “sector bargaining”, referred to by the ACTU during the summit, may not only be drawn along traditional industry or “single interest” employer lines. The inclusion of a reference to “small businesses”, “women” and “First Nations people” suggests that there may be an ability for people in these categories to bargain collectively even if they work in different industries and forms of business. However, it also reflects a reference to the current low paid bargaining stream which exists but is not utilised.

What this could mean for you:

Employers will need clarity on whether these new forms of bargaining will be an opt-in model for them or whether they can be forced to bargain along these new lines.


What the government has said:

A new framework that: “Removes unnecessary complexity for workers and employers, including making the Better Off Overall Test simple, flexible and fair.

What the government might mean:

This suggests that the Government will revise previous proposals to simplify the Better Off Overall Test to focus on an overall comparison of the benefits terms and conditions of employment rather than a line-by-line approach. This should include restrictions on unrealistic and hypothetical comparisons between working arrangements under the proposed enterprise agreement and underlying award. Hopefully, there may also be an ability to focus on the non-monetary needs of the group of employees voting for the agreement and the specific needs of the business they are working in.

What this could mean for you:

If previous feedback from employers is genuinely embraced, this is one of the most promising developments that might come from these reforms. The most important question is whether any relaxation of the Better Off Overall Test will be restricted to union negotiated enterprise agreements, effectively making unions “gate keepers” for the improved system.


What the government has said:

A new framework that: “Gives the Fair Work Commission the capacity to proactively help workers and businesses reach agreements that benefit them, particularly new entrants, and small and medium businesses.

What the government might mean:

This suggests that the Fair Work Commission may be given stronger arbitral powers somewhere between the current bargaining orders (which are about how bargaining is conducted rather than what the enterprise agreement will be) and the making of entire arbitrated agreements when industrial action is terminated to prevent serious damage to the bargaining parties, third parties or the economy.

One possibility is that these new arbitral powers could be used when there are a small number of issues that are preventing an enterprise agreement from being made as a means of avoiding industrial action. The specific reference to “…new entrants, and small and medium businesses.” also suggests that the Fair Work Commission may be given a more proactive role in guiding bargaining where the participants have limited resources or experience in the bargaining process.

What this could mean for you:

Giving the Fair Work Commission further powers to help employers and employees reach agreement is a promising development and potentially fills a gap in the current system. Any arbitral power must be underpinned by a productivity objective and an overriding principle that arbitrated terms must be aimed at simplifying agreements rather than adding to complexity. Employers should be wary of these reforms being used as a trojan horse to restore the broad arbitral powers to resolve any workplace dispute which led to frequent destabilising litigation last century. Instead, the powers need to be tightly focussed on bargaining and the making of enterprise agreements. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the good faith bargaining provisions.


What the government has said:

A new framework that: “Ensures the process for agreement terminations is fit for purpose and fair, and sunsets so called ‘zombie’ agreements.

What the government might mean:

The paring of two opposing issues (use by employers of agreement terminations as a bargaining tactic and the potential difficulties in terminating zombie agreements) suggests that there will not be a blanket abolition of the power to terminate enterprise agreements. Employers should expect a sunset provision for pre-Fair Work Act enterprise agreements similar to the coalition government’s omnibus bill and further preconditions that must be met before the Fair Work Commission can terminate an enterprise agreement. These pre-conditions are likely to be based around employee welfare and prevention of agreement termination applications as a tactic to gain leverage in enterprise bargaining negotiations with employees.

What this could mean for you:

Any employer intending to terminate an existing enterprise agreement should consider timing very carefully. There is a risk that the changes will be legislated to commence from a policy announcement date rather than the date the legislation commences. It will also be important to understand the impact of Minister Burke’s letter to the Fair Work Commission, which notifies it of the proposed changes, on any decision that it may make to terminate an enterprise agreement.


What the government has said:

Update the Fair Work Act to: “Provide proper support for employer bargaining representatives and union delegates.

What the government might mean:

There is no detail about what this statement will mean in practice. While it could be the provision of additional resources to the Fair Work Commission to facilitate bargaining, it is also possible that it encompasses advisory support. Another possibility is that this will be used as a basis to introduce a mechanism for funding union involvement in bargaining through an employer or employee bargaining fee.

What this could mean for you:

The government has not explained what “proper support” means. In its most extreme form, this change could have a significant impact on employers (and potentially employees) who may be required to pay for it operationally or financially.


What the government has said:

Update the Fair Work Act to: “Provide stronger access to flexible working arrangements and unpaid parental leave so families can share work and caring responsibilities.

What the government might mean:

It is likely that these reforms will be centred around the equalising of parental leave under the Fair Work Act regardless of the gender of parents. There is also potential for changes that make it harder for employers to resist employee requests for flexible working arrangements such as “working from home”.

What this could mean for you:

Regardless of the final form of the changes, it is unavoidable that employers will need to reassess their strategies for managing requests for flexible working arrangements.


What the government has said:

Update the Fair Work Act to: “Provide stronger protections for workers against adverse action, discrimination, and harassment.

What the government might mean:

This is an issue which has not been discussed publicly and was a surprise inclusion to many. The link between “discrimination and harassment” and “adverse action” already exists in a legal sense. It is possible that this suggests a watering down of the current tests applied by the Courts in adverse action cases.. It also suggests that there could be a move to importing concepts of procedural fairness into the general protections framework.

What this could mean for you:

The High Court has carefully balanced the rights of employers, employees and unions in its interpretation of the current adverse action laws so that rights are protected but the business needs of employers are not undermined. Any legislative attempt to change this delicate balance will involve further litigation to determine its impact.


The government has said that the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations will commence detailed consultations with business and unions on these matters in the week commencing 5 September 2022.

The government has also said that “Business, unions and Government committed to work proactively together to:

  • Strengthen tripartism and constructive social dialogue in Australian workplace relations
  • Revitalise a culture of creativity, productivity, good faith negotiation and genuine agreement in Australian workplaces
  • Establish a tripartite National Construction Industry Forum to constructively address issues such as mental health, safety, training, apprentices, productivity, culture, diversity and gender equity in the industry

The use of expression “tripartism” suggests that the Jobs and Skills Summit is likely to be the first of many roundtable discussions convened by government to try to find common ground between business, unions and government. The danger for employers is that unions and government appear to be aligned on many issues but business representatives bring a much more diverse range of views which makes it difficult to develop a united position

Areas for further work

The government has also identified the following areas for further consultation with unions and business.

  • Consider options to support the Fair Work Commission build cooperative workplace relationships.
  • Consider how to best help employer representatives and unions to improve safety, fairness and productivity in workplaces.
  • Amend relevant legislation to give workers the right to challenge unfair contractual terms.
  • Initiate a detailed consultation and research process on the concept of a living wage, reporting back in late 2023.
  • Initiate a detailed consultation and research process considering the impact of workplace relations settings (such as rostering arrangements) on work and care, including childcare.
  • Consider allowing the Fair Work Commission to set fair minimum standards to ensure the Road Transport Industry is safe, sustainable and viable.
  • Ensure workers have reasonable access to representation to address genuine safety and compliance issues at work.
  • Consider possible improvements to Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards.

Consistent with comments made by government representatives at the Kingston Reid Job Summit Fringe, these further areas of reform appear to be aimed at cementing ideas for the future as part of a long-term legislative agenda. Employers should keep a watchful eye as these ideas become more solid policy proposals.

Kingston Reid will continue to keep our clients informed as the process of workplace law reform unfolds.

 

 

Alice DeBoos
Managing Partner
+61 2 9169 8444
[email protected]
Duncan Fletcher
Partner
+61 8 6381 7050
[email protected]
Steven Amendola
Partner
+61 3 9958 9606
[email protected]
Shelley Williams
Partner
+61 7 3071 3110
[email protected]
Christa Lenard
Partner
+61 2 9169 8404
[email protected]
Michael Stutley
Partner
+61 8 6381 7060
[email protected]
Katie Sweatman
Partner
+61 3 9958 9605
[email protected]
Liam Fraser
Partner
+61 7 3071 3113
[email protected]
Lucy Shanahan
Partner
+61 2 9169 8405
[email protected]
Beth Robinson
Partner
+61 8 6381 7064
[email protected]
Brendan Milne
Partner
+61 3 9958 9611
[email protected]kingstonreid.com
Michael Mead
Partner
+61 2 9169 8428
[email protected]
25 August 2022
What anti-discrimination law reform means for WA Employers
August 25, 2022

This year saw three very public pieces of evidence demonstrating that community expectations regarding discrimination and harassment in Western Australian workplaces have changed.

What were the pieces of evidence?

  1. The introduction of the substantive provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WA) (WHS Act) on 31 March 2022;
  2. The publication of the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee’s report “Enough is Enough” (the FIFO Report) following the inquiry into sexual harassment against women in the FIFO mining industry in June 2022; and
  3. The publication of the WA Law Reform Commission’s (WALRC) final report (LRC Report) following a review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) (EO Act) in August 2022.

What does the LRC Report say?

The LRC Report was published after more than three years of consultation with a wide range of stakeholders.

Submissions were made by industry groups and trade unions, highlighting the impact these potential reforms may have for employment.

The LRC Report referenced the Equal Opportunity Commission Annual Report 2020-2021 and its data.

For example, in the 2020-21 financial year, the Commission received 564 complaints of discrimination. Of these complaints, the most common was discrimination on the ground of impairment (23.4%), race (14.1%), and sex and sexual harassment (11.1%). Discrimination in employment was the biggest area of complaint received (45.8%), being over double the next largest area of complaint.

The LRC Report recommended significant changes which will mean Western Australia will align with equal opportunity legislation in other Australian jurisdictions.

What will the government do?

Attorney-General Mr John Quigley stated that the McGowan Labour Government “broadly accepted the recommendations” contained in the LRC Report.

On that basis, it seems it is full steam ahead with the Government now drafting a new EO Act.

We expect the new EO Act will incorporate the majority of the WALRC recommendations

Will there be new grounds for discrimination?

While existing grounds of complaint (or protected attributes) will remain unchanged in the EO Act, the reforms may include additional protected attributes:

  • Accommodation status will refer to a person’s status as, for example, a tenant. It differs from the question of whether a person has been discriminated against in the provision of housing.
  • Carer responsibilities will be separated from the broader family status protected attribute that exists under the EO Act. It is recommended that carer responsibility be defined as having responsibility for the care of another person, whether that person is dependant or not (other than in the course of paid employment).
  • Employment status will be defined so it includes being unemployed, receiving a pension or other social security benefit, receiving compensation, being employed on a part-time or casual basis, or undertaking shift or contract work.
  • Immigration status will be a stand-alone ground separate from the definition of race. The WALRC also indicated it should be compatible with the Migration Act 1958 (Cth).
  • Industrial, trade union or employment activity will be included to co-exist with current protections in the employment context. However, the proposed inclusion in the EO Act would extend protections to areas of public life outside of employment.
  • Irrelevant criminal record carries the stigma associated with criminal offending and may hinder a person’s employment opportunities. It will feature an exemption for employers to refuse to offer employment if that criminal record provides evidence the person does not have the attributes that will enable them to fulfill the inherent requirements of the role.
  • Irrelevant medical record will include a person’s worker’s compensation history.
  • Lawful sexual activity will be similar to sexual orientation but would cover other areas, such as people engaged in lawful sex work.
  • Personal association will provide coverage to a person associated (as relatives or otherwise) with another person who is identified by reference to another protected attribute (e.g., race).
  • Physical feature would include a person’s height, shape, facial features, weight, natural hair colour, alopecia, hirsutism and birthmarks (but exclude voluntarily obtained piercings, tattoos and body modifications).
  • Political conviction will be separated from the broader ‘political and religious conviction’ protected attribute that exists under the EO Act. It is likely to extend to relatives or associates of the person who is protected and to all areas of public life under protection.
  • Sex characteristics will provide protections for a person’s variations in sex characteristics that do not align with male or female characteristics.
  • Subjection to domestic or family violence will be included and may be expanded to include all victims of crime or violence.

The WALRC also recommends removing the disadvantage test under the existing EO Act and introducing a positive duty on employers to prevent discrimination.

Will the disadvantage test be dropped?

Currently the EO Act defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advance which leads to the complainant being disadvantaged.

The LRC Report and the FIFO Report both recommended removing the disadvantage test to be consistent with other jurisdictions.

The recommended approach is to define sexual harassment consistently with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Under section 28A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), a person sexually harasses another person if:

  • the person makes an unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed; or
  • engages in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed,

in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

The shift of focus to the harasser’s conduct, instead of the disadvantage suffered by the harassed person, aligns with contemporary community expectations that it is the harasser who should be called to account.

What is the positive duty and will it be in the new legislation?

The WALRC recommends imposing a positive duty on employers to prevent discrimination, harassment, victimisation and vilification at work (see Recommendation 121 of the LRC Report).

This would require ‘reasonable and proportionate measures’ (see Recommendation 122 of the LRC Report), takes into account the size of the duty holder’s business, the nature and circumstances of the business, available resources, operational priorities and the practicability and cost of the measures (see Recommendation 123 of the LRC Report).

The WALRC said introducing a positive duty would encourage duty holders to proactively address discriminatory or harassing conduct while aligning employer’s systems and procedures with the revised objects of the EO Act.

Although the WALRC recommends the imposition of a positive duty, it is not yet clear whether this will make it into the new legislation currently being drafted by the Government.

The WHS Act already imposes a positive duty to reduce psychosocial risks arising from discrimination and harassment in the workplace (and associated accommodation, for example, in the FIFO mining industry). However, the EO Act would extend beyond the workplace and include protected areas of public life.

Key Takeaways

Change is on its way for Western Australia’s discrimination and harassment laws.

New protected attributes will require updated policies and training for employees so they can understand and adjust to the revised expectations around appropriate workplace behaviour.

If a positive duty is imposed, employers will need to take proactive steps to promote equality and address systemic discrimination in the workplace. If the positive duty is like that introduced in Victoria, employers will need to:

  • make significant investments in training and education;
  • audit and update policies, programmes, practices and procedures;
  • have a prevention plan;
  • build organisational capability by developing the leadership skills of managers and supervisors; and
  • embed the psychosocial risks of discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation into WHS risk management processes.

Changes to the no-disadvantage test may also increase the risk that an employee will file a claim in the Commission.

Busy times ahead for WA employers.

Beth Robinson
Partner
+61 8 6381 7064
[email protected]
Michael Stutley
Partner
+61 8 6381 7060
[email protected]
Kevin Jarrett
Lawyer
+61 8 6381 7067
[email protected]

 

17 August 2022
Is the Victorian Fair Jobs Code signposting the Federal Secure Jobs Code?
August 17, 2022

Last week the Victorian Government released its Fair Jobs Code which sets out the requirements that Suppliers of goods, services or works must meet to be engaged by the Victorian Government.

The Victorian Code is important for a number of reasons, not the least being that the current Federal government has committed to introducing what it calls a Secure Australian Jobs Code for those seeking federal government contracts this Victorian Code could be a template for what the Federal Code may contain.

The Victorian Fair Jobs Code also has an eerie similarity to the recently gutted ABCC Building Code, except that it is focussed on different objectives. The Fair Jobs Code is also similar in theme to the ACT Secure Local Jobs Code which commenced earlier this year.

In the broad, what does the Fair Pay Code require?

A Supplier wanting a contract with a Victorian Government Agency must hold a “Pre-Assessment Certificate” for contracts with a value of $3 million or more (threshold procurement contracts) and contracts with a value of $20 million or more (high value procurement contracts).  The certificate is valid for a two year period from the date of issue, unless it is revoked.

For high value procurement contracts, a Supplier must also submit a Fair Jobs Code Plan as part of the procurement process.

There is a Fair Jobs Code unit (FJC Unit) that is tasked with determining whether to issue Pre-Assessment Certificates. It also assists Victorian Government Agencies with the assessment of Fair Jobs Code plans.

It maintains a Register of those Suppliers who have Pre-Assessment certificates (which will be public) and a Register of those who don’t, or who have had their certificates revoked.  That is a private register – a black list.

The FJC Unit will also undertake audits and reviews (which will be a condition of Suppliers wishing to obtain a relevant Victorian Government Contract), and deal with complaints made about Suppliers.

What timeframe is involved?

From 10 August 2022: Guidelines, templates and supporting information have been released, and applications have now opened for Pre-Assessment Certificates.

From 1 December 2022: All Victorian Government agencies must apply the Code to all tender processes (and subsequent procurement contracts) and grant applications (and subsequent grants) released to the market or to the public on or after this date.

For Standing Offer Arrangements (including State Purchase Contracts and Sole Entity Purchase Contracts) the Code will apply from the date that the Standing Offer Arrangement commences or is updated or reissued to refer to the Code following implementation.

As this Code is operative already, Suppliers must apply to get Pre-Assessment Certificates between now and 1 December 2022.

Pre-Assessment Certificate – the criteria and other things

In conducting an assessment the FJC Unit will take into account the following:

  1. the underlying seriousness of the conduct reflected in any adverse ruling or enforceable undertaking concerning the Supplier or business, including whether, in the past three years, it has:
    1. committed an offence against the law of the State or another jurisdiction; or
    2. engaged in conduct that took advantage of, treated unfairly or otherwise harmed its workers;
  2. whether any conduct reflected in an adverse ruling or an enforceable undertaking was isolated or systemic;
  3. whether the Supplier or business disclosed any adverse rulings or enforceable undertakings to the FJC Unit and/or a Victorian Government agency during the application process or term of a threshold or high-value procurement contract or significant business expansion grant;
  4. whether the Supplier or business has taken steps to rectify any conduct reflected in any adverse rulings or enforceable undertakings;
  5. whether the Supplier or business has taken steps to ensure that the conduct does not reoccur, including changing systems, staff training, business models or compliance efforts;
  6. any information provided to the FJC Unit by:
    1. the Supplier or business;
    2. victims or persons directly affected by the conduct;
    3. regulators involved in investigating or taking action in relation to any adverse ruling or enforceable undertaking; or
    4. Victorian Government agencies that have engaged with the Supplier or business.

There will be a Pre-Assessment Certificate Application Form (not currently available) which must be used.

The FJC Unit will seek to advise the outcome of an assessment application within 30 business days of receiving the application.

A summary of the information that may be required is as follows:

  • details of governance arrangements
  • compliance history and corrective actions taken

Moreover a Supplier has to agree to:

  • the FJC Unit making inquiries to access and verify information provided;
  • notifying the FJC Unit of any adverse ruling or enforceable undertaking within 10 business days of the ruling or undertaking being made;
  • participate in audit and/or review processes,

and for high value procurement contracts a Supplier has to submit a FJC Plan and provide regular reports about code implementation, and respond to reasonable requests for information.

Review process for decisions to refuse or revoke a Pre-Assessment Certificate

A Supplier can request a review of a decision to refuse or revoke a Pre-Assessment Certificate which will be dealt with internally within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

A decision is also likely susceptible to judicial review in the Supreme Court.

The FJC Plan

The FJC Plan will require Suppliers to provide information in relation to compliance with Standards 1 to 5 of the Code including:

  1. policies and procedures in place to ensure compliance with applicable laws (for example, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and occupational health and safety laws);
  2. policies or procedures in place to support Standards 1 to 5 of the Code; and
  3. labour requirements of the high value procurement or significant business expansion grant, including:
    1. the number of people engaged and the estimated duration of the engagement and how these people will be sourced or engaged;
    2. strategies to give preference to ongoing forms of employment over casual, fixed term or labour hire arrangements; and
    3. the rationale for using casual, fixed-term and/or labour hire arrangements (if applicable).

Suppliers bidding for a high value contract have to submit an FJC Plan at the time of submitting a tender.

The Code Standards

Before setting out the Standards below, Suppliers seeking to enter a threshold procurement contract must comply with Standard 1 whilst Suppliers seeking to enter into a high value procurement contract have to comply with all the Standards.

The Standards are:

Standard 1: Comply with all applicable employment, industrial relations and workplace health and safety obligations

Suppliers and businesses must comply with all applicable employment, industrial relations and workplace health and safety laws, including:

  1. Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth);
  2. Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (and, if relevant, the WHS laws in other States and Territories);
  3. Wage Theft Act 2020 (Vic) (and, if relevant, the Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Act 2020 (Qld));
  4. Long Service Benefits Portability Act 2018 (Vic) (and, if relevant, similar legislation in other jurisdictions);
  5. Labour Hire Licencing Act 2018 (Vic) (and, if relevant, similar licensing legislation in Queensland, South Australia and the ACT); and
  6. any other laws specified in the Guidelines (eg, Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 (Cth), Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (Vic) and the Child Employment Act 2003 (Vic)).

Standard 2: Promote secure employment and job security

Suppliers and businesses must:

  • endeavour to engage workers directly and on a permanent basis wherever possible, and must only enter into arrangements for the provision of labour hire services with a provider who is licensed under the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2018 (Vic).
  • comply with immigration and migration laws when employing workers who are not Australian citizens; and
  • ensure employees’ terms and conditions of employment comply with legal obligations under Australian immigration and migration law and any conditions of the employee’s working visa.
  • reflect secure employment arrangements in their organisational policies.
  • have policies, procedures, plans and/or systems in place to ensure that they do not knowingly or recklessly misrepresent an employment relationship or a proposed employment arrangement as an independent contracting arrangement.

Standard 3: Foster cooperative and constructive relationships between employers, employees and their representatives

Suppliers and businesses must:

  • allow employees to actively participate in and be represented by the industrial organisation or association of the employees’ choice, subject to applicable laws.
  • strive to make reasonable allowances for employees and bargaining representatives to participate in enterprise agreement negotiations.
  • have processes in place to consult with employees and employees’ representatives about major workplace changes that are likely to have a significant effect on the employees, subject to applicable laws.
  • subject to applicable laws, have processes in place that allow all employees the opportunity to attend meetings with union, health and safety or employee representatives, and access to noticeboards, email or other communication facilities to facilitate communication between workers and/or employee representatives regarding work matters.
  • recognise validly elected union workplace delegates or employee representatives and have processes in place that allow communication between employees and their representatives subject to requirements under applicable laws.

Standard 4: Foster workplace equity and diversity

Suppliers and businesses must:

  • comply with anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, and
  • demonstrate a commitment to equity and diversity in their organisational practices.

Standard 5: Promote supply chain compliance

Suppliers and businesses must take reasonable steps to ensure that direct subcontractors in relation to a high value procurement contract or significant business expansion grant, comply with all applicable employment, industrial relations and workplace health and safety obligations.

Suppliers engaged in relation to a high value procurement contract must only enter into a subcontracting arrangement with subcontractors that also have a Pre-Assessment Certificate, unless the value of the subcontract is less than $10 million (exclusive of GST).

Thoughts

Standards 2 and 3 signal a push to minimise “insecure” work arrangements and foster the involvement of unions in the business of a Supplier.

Standard 5 is a device intended to expand the application of the Code by requiring a Supplier to enter into a subcontractor arrangement only if the subcontractor has a Pre-Assessment Certificate (unless the value of the subcontract is less than $10 million – exclusive of GST).

Complaints about a Supplier

A Supplier holding a Pre-Assessment Certificate may be the subject of complaint to the FJC Unit.

The following persons (or their representatives) may make a complaint to the FJC Unit about a Supplier or business that holds a Pre-Assessment Certificate:

  1. a worker or former worker employed or engaged by the Supplier or business;
  2. a regulator or decision-maker who has made an adverse finding relating to the Supplier or business;
  3. a party to any dispute which resulted in an adverse finding relating to the Supplier or business; or
  4. a Victorian Government agency that has engaged with the Supplier or business in the past three years in relation to the supply of goods, services or construction works or the provision of grants.

The FJC Unit may use a complaint or information disclosed in or discovered as a result of a complaint in determining whether to grant, reassess or renew a Pre-Assessment Certificate to a Supplier.

In some circumstances the complaint may also be a protected disclosure under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2012.

One could see how a complaints process could be weaponised against a Supplier if they were seen as not towing the “secure employment” line.

Other things and what does this all mean?

If the FJC Unit decides to revoke a Supplier’s Pre-Assessment certificate or a Supplier allows it to lapse, a Victorian Government Agency may sue for breach of contract given that having and maintaining a Pre-Assessment Certificate is a condition of contract.

The Code is not a legislative instrument.  Accordingly if it is applied in a way that breaches, for example, the general protection provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009, the fact of there being a document called a Code, offers no protection.  Contrast that with the ABCC’s Building Code, that was a legislative instrument, which provided protection.

The Code will create an industry for form filling given the type of information sought, how extensive it has to be, and the need to justify why, as a Supplier, you should be able to do work for the Victorian Government.  What was highly process driven before, will be even more so now, with clear social engineering goals in mind.

And, when what is involved is being able to tender for a high value procurement contract of $20 million or more, the stakes involved in not getting a Pre-Assessment Certificate, or having it revoked may be such that there may be a lot of litigation in respect of outcome of those decisions.

As for the touted Federal Secure Jobs Code, the Victorian Fair Jobs Code may be a fair weather warning of what businesses will face later this year.

 

Steven Amendola
Partner
+61 3 9958 9606
[email protected]
Brendan Milne
Partner
+61 3 9958 9611
[email protected]
15 August 2022
Have you understood the assignment? Terminating labour hire casuals
August 15, 2022

Following the High Court’s decision in Rossato last year and the legislative amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act), employers were relieved to have some clarity over the common law and statutory definitions of casual employment. However, a slew of recent decisions has brought casual employment back into the industrial spotlight, specifically in relation to the way casual employment is terminated in the context of labour hire organisations. These decisions come at a time when the Labor Government has indicated that the labour hire industry is going to be a key area of focus at the upcoming Jobs Summit which is likely to result in further legislative change to casual employment.

Termination of assignment, not employment

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) in Jordon v Allstaff Australia Sydney Pty Ltd [2022] FWC 1607 (Jordon) dismissed an applicant’s general protections claim because it found the employee had not been dismissed. The applicant was a casual employee assigned to work at a Woolworths site. Following a non-work related injury, the employee notified the employer he was ready to return to work. After receiving independent medical advice, the employer formed the view it was not possible for the employee to return to his assignment with Woolworths and sent the employee a text message to tell him his assignment had been terminated. The employee’s contract contained a clause which stated that the termination of an assignment did not mean the termination of the employment, which the FWC acknowledged. The FWC also noted there was no evidence to suggest the employer wasn’t still prepared to continue the employment relationship and assign the employee further work from time to time. On this basis, the applicant’s casual employment had not been dismissed, even though his assignment had been terminated.

Similarly, in Patterson v NX Blue Pty Ltd, George Ayoub, Salini Australia Pty Ltd [2022] FWC 1590 the FWC dismissed an applicant’s general protections claim which was made following the employee’s demobilisation from the Snowy Hydro project. In considering whether the employee had jurisdiction to make the application, the FWC considered whether the employee had been dismissed. Like in Jordon, the employee’s contract confirmed the termination of an assignment was not the termination of employment without express written notification. As no such notification had been given, the FWC found the employee had not been dismissed.

Termination of assignment and employment

In contrast, the FWC in CEPU v AusTunnel Pty Ltd, SLC Snowy Hydro Joint Venture T/A Future Generation JV [2022] FWC 1655 (Austunnel) found two casual labour hire employees had been dismissed. The FWC found the employees’ contracts were tied to the project, meaning when their assignment on the project came to an end, so did their employment.

In Fox v Programmed Integrated Workforce Ltd (No. 2) [2022] QIRC 281 a casual employee made a claim for payment of their accrued long service leave entitlements (LSL). In determining whether the LSL was payable, the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) considered whether the employee was dismissed. The employer was unsuccessful in re-tendering for a contract to provide labour to the Brisbane City Council (BCC). As a result, it emailed its casual employees, including the applicant, to inform them of the end date of the BCC contract. The QIRC found the terms of the applicant’s employment contract empowered Programmed to terminate the employment relationship and did not refer to Programmed’s ability to terminate an assignment. The QIRC, having regard to the drafting of the employee’s contract, the communication sent to the employee and failure to offer any alternative work, determined the email to be the employer’s termination of the employees’ assignment with BCC and the employment relationship.

Should you address the termination of assignment in casual labour hire contracts?

The answer to this depends on the needs of the on-hire provider and its clients. There will be circumstances where a labour hire provider intends for the completion of an employee’s assignment to mark the end of the employment relationship. However, there will be other circumstances where the employer intends for the employment relationship to continue after the casual assignment has ended. The above decisions highlight the importance of labour hire providers carefully drafting casual employment contracts as the consequence of getting it wrong will impact on whether a casual employee’s employment has been terminated or not.

When is it beneficial for a labour hire provider to include provisions distinguishing the end of an employee’s assignment from the end of the employment relationship?

In many cases a labour hire provider will want the employment relationship to continue after an employee’s casual assignment with a client ends. This allows for flexibility for the labour hire provider to continue to place the casual employee on other client sites/assignments without having to issue a new employment contract on each occasion.

The purpose of such contract provisions is to contemplate that an employee may be demobilised from a particular site without interrupting the broader casual employment relationship. The flexibility to assign casual employees across more than one client site is usually beneficial to labour hire providers and their clients.

In the absence of a positive act by the employer to bring about the termination of the employment relationship, the casual employment contract and relationship continues, with the prospect remaining of the labour hire provider offering work to the employee at any time.

Should labour hire employers include express termination clauses in their casual employment contracts at all, beyond the right to terminate for serious misconduct?

From a statutory perspective, the casual definition inserted into the FW Act confirmed that each occasion a casual employee is engaged represents a separate contract of employment, which may be on a single shift basis, or any other agreed short-term period. On this basis, the engagement of the casual employee ceases at the end of each discrete shift or agreed period.

It is therefore technically not necessary to include termination provisions in a casual employment contract as the casual employee is engaged on an ad hoc basis with no firm advance commitment to continuing work. In practice, some employers include termination provisions in an attempt to provide clarity around when the employment contract and relationship will come to an end. It is common for the termination clause to simply state that the casual employment can be terminated without advance notice or by the giving of one hour’s notice.

From a common law perspective, where an employment contract includes a term tying the employment to a specific project/assignment, as in Austunnel, the demobilisation of a casual employee from a particular site is likely to also terminate the employment relationship.

These recent decisions indicate that the great casual debate is far from over and the issue will take centre stage at the Labor Government’s upcoming Jobs Summit and be the subject of ongoing legislative reform.

Key takeaways for employers

Labour hire employers need to be acutely aware of the purpose for which they are engaging a casual employee prior to committing the terms of the relationship to writing. We recommend labour hire employers:

  • conduct a review of their casual employment contracts to identify if they are project specific or allow the employer to assign the employee to any of its clients as required
  • consider in what circumstances a casual employee might need to be notified of their demobilisation from a particular site as opposed to there simply being no requirement to engage them for a further shift (e.g. are they a FIFO worker? Is the client likely to spill the beans and tell the employee they are being demobilised? Is the contract due for tender soon?)
  • consider if there is a potential need to notify a casual employee of the termination of an assignment with a specific client and if so, ensure the employment contract clarifies their employment is not confined to one client or site and they may be assigned elsewhere;
  • deliver refresher training to managers/supervisors who are responsible for communicating with labour hire employees to ensure they are aware of how to communicate with a casual employee who has been demobilised from a client’s site.

If you’d like to hear more about what we have to say about casual employment and the labour hire industry, you can join us at the Kingston Reid Jobs Summit Fringe Festival being held in Canberra on 31 August and 1 September 2022 here.

 

Kat Bennett
Lawyer
+61 7 3071 3103
[email protected]
Xavier Burton
Graduate Lawyer
+61 7 3071 3121
[email protected]
Shelley Williams
Partner
+61 7 3071 3110
[email protected]