Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten has provided details of further enhancements to the Fair Work Act to continue the Gillard Government’s clear focus on improving Australian workplaces.
The changes have been developed to provide stability and certainty to businesses and to help them remain competitive in a changing economy. They also provide employees with improved fairness, flexibility and representation at work.
The Minister met with employee and employer representatives in Sydney yesterday to outline the proposals.
The changes complement and build upon family-friendly reforms announced last month, which have been specifically designed to help modern Australian families balance their work and home responsibilities.
“The proposed changes demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to encouraging productive, collaborative, and clever workplaces”, Mr Shorten said.
“This package gets the balance right through a suite of reforms that will provide greater certainty for employers in key areas while protecting fairness and the right to be represented at work for employees.”
Bargaining for greenfields agreements
The proposed amendments will implement a number of Review Panel recommendations to assist with bargaining for greenfields agreements, when those negotiations reach an impasse.
“We firmly believe that negotiating in good faith is the best way for parties to reach an agreement which balances the needs of the business to be competitive and productive with the entitlement for workers to receive fair, but not excessive, pay and conditions,” Mr Shorten said.
“We will be extending the principle of good faith bargaining to those parties negotiating a greenfields agreement under these reforms.”
The reforms will provide access to the Fair Work Commission to assist in the resolution of greenfields bargaining when it has reached an impasse and will allow for workplace determinations to be made in limited circumstances to ensure certainty for investments.
“The Government understands the importance of continued investment in Australia and the development of future projects to Australia’s economy,” Mr Shorten said.
“The new bargaining framework for greenfields agreements will balance the desire for parties to have control over negotiations with the objectives of providing certainty for future project development and reducing the risk of delays in major projects.”
The Government will also apply this limited access to workplace determinations in other limited circumstances where bargaining has become intractable.
Right of entry
The proposed amendments will also clarify right of entry provisions to ensure employers can concentrate on running their business while protecting employees’ rights to representation.
To address employer concerns about excessive visits, the Fair Work Commission will be provided with greater power to resolve disputes relating to the frequency of right of entry visits for discussion purposes.
The Government also believes that in the vast majority of cases, permit holders and employers should be able to agree to a room or location to hold discussions
Right of entry for discussion purposes can only occur during meal times or other breaks. The right of entry provisions will be amended to clarify that where an employer and union cannot agree on the location of a meeting between the union and employees the union is entitled to represent, the meeting should be held in a location used by the employees during meal times or other breaks.
“These changes will balance the need for unions to be able to represent their members and hold discussions with them in an appropriate location with the need for employers to go about their business without undue interference,” Mr Shorten said.
Changes will also clarify arrangements for permit holders reliant on employer-provided travel and/or accommodation to access remote worksites.
These measures will be subject to further consultation prior to the introduction of the legislation.
“The Gillard Government is upfront and clear about our plans on workplace relations, and we remain focussed on facilitating productive and cooperative workplaces,” Mr Shorten said.
“This stands in stark contrast to the approach of Tony Abbott and the Coalition, who would prefer to outsource their ideas to a 2016 review rather than coming clean with the Australian public about their real plans for workplace relations.”
“Business needs certainty and workers need to know that the Government understands the demands of modern family life. They don’t need a workplace relations policy in witness protection.
“The Gillard Government has now made a number of enhancements to the operation of the Fair Work Act since the release of the independent Review last year and we will continue to make sure employees are protected, businesses can be successful and Australia’s economy continues to thrive.”
Mr Shorten’s Media Contact: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804