Australia’s workplace relations laws
As set out in the Fair Work Act 2009 and other workplace legislation, the key elements of our workplace relations framework are:
- A safety net of minimum terms and conditions of employment.
- A system of enterprise-level collective bargaining underpinned by bargaining obligations and rules governing industrial action.
- Provision for individual flexibility arrangements as a way to allow an individual worker and an employer to make flexible work arrangements that meet their genuine needs, provided that the employee is better off overall.
- Protections against unfair or unlawful termination of employment.
- Protection of the freedom of both employers and employees to choose whether or not to be represented by a third party in workplace matters and the provision of rules governing the rights and responsibilities of employer and employee representatives.
Australia’s workplace relations laws are enacted by the Commonwealth Parliament. The practical application of the Fair Work Act in workplaces is overseen by the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman.
- The Fair Work Commission is the independent national workplace relations tribunal and has the power to carry out a range of functions in relation to workplace matters such as the safety net of minimum conditions, enterprise bargaining, industrial action, dispute resolution and termination of employment.
- The Fair Work Ombudsman helps employees, employers, contractors and the wider community to understand their workplace rights and responsibilities and enforces compliance with Australia’s workplace laws.
On 26 November 2015 the Fair Work Amendment Act 2015 came into effect.
The Act amended the Fair Work Act 2009 to:
- reform greenfields agreement making, including to apply good faith bargaining rules to negotiations and to provide an optional six month notified negotiation period,
- introduce measures to maintain the value of monies held by the Commonwealth for underpaid workers,
- provide that a request for extended unpaid parental leave cannot be refused unless the employer has given the employee a reasonable opportunity to discuss the request, and
- provide that an application for a protected action ballot can only be made once bargaining for a proposed enterprise agreement has commenced.
The Australian Government introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Remaining 2014 Measures) Bill 2015 into Parliament on 3 December 2015. The Bill includes:
- measures to provide clarity and certainty for employees and employers around the use of individual flexibility arrangements, while maintaining existing protections for employees,
- reforms to transfer of business rules to provide that where an employee transfers to an associated entity of their current employer on their own initiative, their industrial instrument will not transfer with them, and
- reforms to union workplace access rules to address excessive workplace visits for discussion purposes.
On 21 December 2015 the Government released the final report of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the workplace relations framework. The Government will consult widely in 2016 on the report and the Fair Work laws. The report can be found on the Productivity Commission’s website.
On 13 March 2015 the Department of Employment made a submission to the Productivity Commission inquiry. The submission is available here: