Throughout 2017–18, the department advised on workplace relations policy, managed the Commonwealth work health and safety and workers’ compensation framework (including sharing information and coordinating asbestos policy across the supply chain), and implemented key programs.
In late 2017, the department assumed small business policy making functions and is advising on cross-government initiatives affecting small business. The department also assumed responsibility for the Government’s deregulation agenda.
The department was successful in improving information sharing and coordinating asbestos policy management across the supply chain. This has been achieved through a whole-of-government approach involving Commonwealth agencies and states and territories. The department is taking an active role in Safe Work Australia’s 2018 review of the model work health and safety (WHS) laws. As well as assessing the model’s content and effectiveness, the review is also an opportunity to determine if the model laws are operating as intended and to evaluate whether they are flexible and robust enough to respond to emerging issues and the changing nature of work.
The department also administers the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG), a safety net scheme that provides financial assistance to workers who are left with unpaid employment entitlements when they lose their jobs due to the liquidation or bankruptcy of their employer.
Stakeholder consultations were undertaken to inform Comcare scheme reforms. These reforms seek to better support injured workers through early intervention and evidence-based medical treatment, and to help them return to work sooner. The department also continued to work with Comcare and other APS agencies to drive improvements in managing workers’ compensation claims.
- The department supported the passage of the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 on 5 September 2017, and the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Act 2017 on 10 August 2017. The Protecting Vulnerable Workers Act introduces higher penalties for employers who deliberately and systematically underpay their staff. The Corrupting Benefits Act bans corrupt and secret payments between employers and unions, and implements recommendations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
- The department funded the International Labour Organization to deliver the Women and the Future of Work in the Asia–Pacific project, including a conference and research report, with future-focused policies needed to ensure women have an equal share in the region’s economic potential.
- The Australian Small Business and Advisory Services program was refocused to deliver services that improve digital capability. Three providers were selected to deliver the re-designed program which will commence on 2 July 2018.
- The department continued to drive the work of the cross-agency Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, led by Professor Allan Fels AO. The taskforce is charged with identifying additional measures to protect temporary migrant workers from exploitation in Australian workplaces, and will conclude its work in September 2018.
- The Quad Bike Safety Inter-Departmental Committee, which is chaired by the department, explored national quad bike safety initiatives including the feasibility of a quad bike safety rating system. The committee is supporting the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with its quad bike safety investigation, which is expected to be completed later in 2018.
- The department assisted Comcare to embed choice of claims managers in the Comcare scheme for non-corporate Commonwealth entities, which is expected to be in place in late 2018.
- The department engaged Jaguar Consulting to conduct an independent review of the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016. The review commenced on 1 December 2017 and has been informed by consultations with key industry stakeholders as well as submissions from industry bodies, contractor and subcontractor representatives, and unions. The final report will be delivered later in 2018.
- The Federal Safety Commissioner (FSC) has improved the scalability of the building and construction Work Health and Safety Accreditation Scheme to encourage a wider range of companies to seek accreditation. The number of currently accredited Indigenous companies has increased significantly over the past three years, rising from 12 in 2014 up to 27 at the end of 2017. The number of companies considered small employers (19 employees or fewer) that are maintaining accreditation has been increasing progressively and represented approximately 18 per cent of accredited companies at the end of 2017.
- The department’s work on modernising the Fair Entitlements Guarantee (FEG) was recognised with a commendation in the 2017 Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Sector Management. FEG’s modernisation has led to a significant increase in efficiency, timeliness and outcomes for people receiving payments, and has increased stakeholder satisfaction with administration of the scheme.
- In 2017–18, the Australian National Audit Office conducted an assurance review of the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Program to examine whether it has achieved value for money. The report cited that:
- The program is making a positive impact by influencing market behaviour and increasing voluntary compliance with employer obligations.
- The department has developed and implemented plans, guidelines and procedures to support the cost-effective conduct of recovery activities.
- The department has dynamic data collection and reporting tools and has developed guidelines and procedures that support a risk-based, commercial approach to the assessment and selection of matters to pursue.
- The World Bank study, Maximizing the Development Impacts from Temporary Migration: recommendations for Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (2017) found that the Seasonal Worker Programme ‘continues to deliver significant advantages, not just for Australian farmers, but for the workers, households and communities of participating Pacific island countries. The study found that since 2012, the program has delivered approximately $144 million in net income gains to participating countries in the Pacific region.
- The department is working with the Fair Work Commission and Fair Work Ombudsman to develop non-regulatory solutions that will make it easier for small and family businesses to navigate the workplace relations system, and improve their interactions with the Fair Work institutions.
- The department is continuing to provide policy and legal advice on a range of significant workplace relations matters as they arise. These include:
- building and maintaining nationally harmonised work health and safety laws while ensuring the regulatory framework meets the specific needs, operating environment and priorities of all jurisdictions, and
- working with stakeholders on reforms to the Comcare scheme to embed best practice injury management and return to work outcomes.
- The Federal Safety Commissioner (FSC) has been working with stakeholders to develop an approach to auditing accredited companies against the National Construction Code’s performance requirements on high risk building materials. This has been challenging, as the existing state and territory regulatory frameworks have shifted over the past 12 months in response to the priorities of each jurisdiction addressing combustible cladding concerns. The FSC has also engaged with the Building Ministers’ Forum and the Building Regulators’ Forum (BRF) to identify further opportunities to contribute to consideration of non-conforming materials. Consultation with state and territory building regulators
to implement information sharing protocols about high risk activities, products and non-compliance with the National Construction Code will further enhance the FSC’s influence in this area.
- The Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Program is working to influence the behaviour of industry stakeholders (including employers and insolvency practitioners) by identifying ambiguities in the law, taking a stance that ensures employee entitlements are paid, and – where necessary – seeking clarification from the courts. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee Recovery Program has tested several important aspects of Australian laws, resulting in a number of court decisions that will increase the payment of employee entitlements.
- The Seasonal Worker Programme is administered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Home Affairs and the Fair Work Ombudsman. The department has robust processes to ensure workers are protected while in Australia, including a strong compliance and monitoring regime. This includes six stages of monitoring against program requirements under the program’s deed of agreement. These activities include employer risk profiling that enables targeted compliance activities, a dedicated contract management team that undertakes scheduled site visits with approved employers, information sharing and referral to other Australian Government agencies, and liaison
with participating countries.