HSU Members need to fight the Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill

Friday 18 Dec 2020

Union members face another fight with the Morrison Government over the Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill, which will make significant changes to the Fair Work Act by affecting and reducing hard-won worker conditions and rights, in the guise of “economic recovery”.

The Bill will disproportionately hurt HSU members if it passes. We urgently seek member support to campaign against and defeat this Bill just as we did last year with the Ensuring Integrity Bill. 

We are seeking members to come forward to be part of the campaign and tell their stories. This is particularly our members in private sector pathology, aged care, disability services and Allied Health.

We would love to hear from members who:

  • rely on penalty rates or can talk about the need to be paid their overtime
  • are hoping to convert to permanent employment and anticipate/have had issues in doing so
  • were on Job Keeper and had issues with their employer
  • are worried about changes to the BOOT
  • work for multiple employers to pay their bills or who experienced insecure work during the COVID pandemic

Please contact us as soon as possible – by emailing your interest to union@hsuwa.com.au.

The Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill - at a glance

WA’s Christian Porter has, on behalf of the Morrison Government, introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020. The package proposes reform in the five focus areas of: Casuals and Fixed Term Employees; Award Simplification; Enterprise Agreements; Compliance and Enforcement Greenfields Agreements.

  • Casual and Fixed-Term Employees

The package will provide, for the first time, a statutory definition of casual employment in the Fair Work Act. It will also introduce a requirement for employers to offer casual staff part- or full-time contracts after 12 months. To be eligible for permanency, casual staff must have worked for the employer or business for 12 months and be able to demonstrate ‘consistent hours’ of work for the preceding six months. However, under the legislation an employer may decide not to make an offer or accept an employee request if they have reasonable grounds not to do so.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus argues this gives employers a "get out of jail card" due to the broad definition of what was reasonable and the lack of enforcement. Employers would still be able to designate a worker as a casual at the time of their employment and then have them work full-time regular hours.

She said the legislation's claim to have stronger rights to convert to employment did not stand up because the casuals could not seek to have their request enforced by the FWC, leaving the expensive option of challenging it in the Federal Court.

"If workers did have somewhere to go to enforce their rights, this legislation would not be nearly as bad."

"There's no point having a right to something if you can’t actually do something about it, if you can’t actually enforce it."

  The legislation would also allow employers to offer part-time employees additional hours without paying overtime. The Government is promoting this as being part of the COVID-19 economic recovery and workforce response. It is also being used to say that it will reduce casualisation by making it more affordable to employ people part-time, and then be able to bump up their hours as and when needed without “unsustainable” costs to the employer.    These measures are about the Government trying to stop the outcome of the WorkPac Pty Ltd v Rossato decision (otherwise known as the Skene decision) this year, where it was found that employers should pay employment entitlements to casuals where the work arrangements are like that of a permanent employee e.g. fixed and regular hours. The Government claims workers are “double dipping”. However, there are significant numbers of causals including those in the Skene decision who are not being paid any or only a partial casual loading to begin with.

  • Award Simplification

The legislation will seek to simplify awards in industries the Government deems most affected by COVID-19. So far, they have flagged retail and hospitality. It would allow employers to choose a “loaded rate” of pay (a higher hourly rate than the minimum rates under the award), instead of paying the minimum hourly rate and the additional applicable penalty rate (for work at night or on Sundays, for example). It is said the change is to simplify awards by making it easier for employers in certain industries to navigate varying rates of hourly pay, but it is part of the Government’s moves to continue to erode penalty rates.  

  • Enterprise Agreements

The Fair Work Commission would have 21 days to approve enterprise agreements. Provisions will be introduced to reportedly make the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) more "flexible". Under the Government’s proposal, employers can apply for approval of enterprise agreements without the safeguard that worker’s pay will be better off by passing the BOOT. At this stage, there would be a two-year time limit to cover “COVID Recovery”.  

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