Australian workers are back on the road to decent pay rises and better conditions with the Albanese Government’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill set to become law by Christmas.
AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton says the new industrial relations law is the result of concerted pressure from the AWU and Australian unions, and is an important first step to levelling the playing field and ensuring workers can once again access fair and decent pay rises.
The Bill passed through the Senate this week, clearing its way to become law by the end of the year. Most of the changes concerning bargaining will take effect in July next year.
Among the key changes, the Bill provides access to multi-employer bargaining, simplifies the approval process for enterprise bargaining agreements, and gives the Fair Work Commission the power to arbitrate EBA terms where there is a protracted dispute.
It will also prevent employers terminating EBAs to undermine fair negotiations, and raises the cap for small claims to make underpayment claims easier to prosecute.
And it puts an end to politically motivated union bashing by abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission and Registered Organisations Commission.
Mr Walton says the new law tips the balance back in workers’ favour after 10 years of anti-union, anti-worker, Liberal government.
“The new laws are an important first step to fixing a broken, outdated enterprise bargaining system,” he says.
“Since the system was introduced in the early 1990s, the share of the workforce covered by enterprise agreements has plummeted.
“This has seen more workers being paid at lower award rates and wage growth has flatlined.
“Business groups and conservative politicians are now screaming about this Bill, because they’re worried it’s going to make it easier for workers to get pay rises.
“But they are the same people who denied workers fair and reasonable pay rises for 10 years.”
Female workers are also set to gain: the new laws make it easier to collectively bargain to help reduce the gender pay gap, with the Bill also banning the employer practice of pay secrecy, which has been used to undermine women’s pay. The Government also recently passed the Respect At Work Bill, finally implementing the recommendations of the landmark Jenkins report.
The new laws will also prohibit sexual harassment, make job security and gender equity objects of the Fair Work Act, and give the FWC the power to arbitrate to resolve disputes about access to flexible working arrangements.
The latter means flexible rostering will be more easily available to parents with school-aged children, people with a disability, carers, the over 55s, and domestic violence victims.
Mr Walton says job security, gender equity and workplace flexibility are critical to many vulnerable workers, especially women.
“This Bill will protect some of our most vulnerable workers, who are often in lower paid jobs jobs,” he says.
“Giving them fair and easier access to safe, secure jobs and flexible work arrangements will make their lives that much easier, and will play a major role in closing the gender pay gap.”
The Bill passed after the Government agreed to a number of amendments put by crossbench Senators, with Independent Senator David Pocock saying it now struck the right balance between ensuring people started receiving long overdue wage rises, maintaining productivity and protecting the nation’s most vulnerable.
The amendments included:
- Maintaining protections for prospective employees under the Better Off Overall Test;
- Excluding small businesses with fewer than 20 employees from multi-employer bargaining streams;
- A review of the legislation withing two years of its passage;
- Extending the “grace period” during which a single-interest multi-enterprise bargaining authorisation can be granted from six to nine months;
- New safeguards for businesses that have fewer than 50 employees wanting to quit multi-enterprise bargaining;
- Increasing the “minimum bargaining period” for the purpose of an intractable bargaining declaration from six to nine months;
- Preventing parties unreasonably withholding agreement for an agreement to be voted on by workers;
- Carving out civil construction from all streams of multi-enterprise bargaining;
- Giving the Minister a new power to declare an industry or occupation eligible for the supported (previously low-paid) bargaining stream.