Election update – summary of ALP and Coalition policies on workplace issues

With the Federal election taking place tomorrow and current polls revealing it will likely be a competitive race to the finish, it is a good time for employers to understand what policies the major political parties propose in the employment and industrial relations sphere.

The ALP’s policies

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has revealed a suite of policies aimed at shaking up workplace and industrial relations issues, with promises they will implement the most significant changes to Australia’s workplace laws in recent years.

ALP pledges to increase wages by:

  • increasing the minimum wage to a ‘living wage’;
  • reversing cuts to penalty rates in the retail services and hospitality industry;
  • legislating to prevent further cuts to penalty rates; and
  • increasing penalties for, and enforcement of, wage theft.

ALP proposes national changes to the labour-hire industry by:

  • legislating to require labour-hire workers to receive the same pay and conditions as people employed directly in the same role; and
  • establishing a national labour licensing scheme that requires all labour-hire companies to obtain a licence.

ALP proposes to reduce casualisation and job insecurity of the workforce by:

  • legislating an objective definition of a casual employee;
  • legislating a right for casuals employees to request to convert to permanent positions;
  • providing workers with a right to challenge an unreasonable refusal of a conversion request; and
  • limiting the use of fixed-term contracts to 4 consecutive contracts, within a 24-month period, prior to an employer being required to offer employees permanent positions.

Changes proposed in relation to enterprise agreements include:

  • amending the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) to improve multi-employer bargaining; and
  • preventing the Fair Work Commission (FWC) from unilaterally terminating enterprise agreements in circumstances where that would result in a reduction to employee entitlements.

ALP’s proposals in relation to superannuation include:

  • implementing a mechanism in the National Employment Standards for employees to recover unpaid superannuation from employers; and
  • increasing employer penalties for unpaid superannuation.

A number of ALP’s policies target gender equality, such as:

  • providing employees with 26 weeks of paid parental leave through a government and employer co-contribution scheme;
  • amending the FW Act to make pay equity a central objective of the FWC;
  • providing the FWC with a mechanism to order pay increases for workers in female-dominated industries (such as early childhood, aged care and disability services);
  • giving the FWC greater capacity and funding to conduct pay equity reviews;
  • requiring large companies to publically reveal their gender pay gaps; and
  • banning secrecy clauses in contracts, giving employees the right to disclose their pay.

The Coalition’s policies

The Coalition has revealed little in the way of explicit policies on core employment and industrial relations issues. It has adopted a more non-interventionist approach by focusing on employment and wage growth for Australians through a stronger economy by such plans as:

  • lowering taxes;
  • boosting regional employment;
  • backing small and family businesses; and
  • investing in education and training.

The proposals that have been announced include:

  • legislating the right for casual workers to request conversion to permanent positions;
  • introducing a labour-hire registration scheme in the horticulture, cleaning, security and meat processing sectors;
  • introducing criminal sanctions for clear, deliberate and systemic wage underpayments;
  • providing funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman to target sham contracting used to avoid employee entitlements; and
  • allowing parental leave to be taken in two blocks.

What next?

We will continue to monitor developments and provide a further update once election results are revealed, outlining in greater detail the workplace and industrial relations policies that will be a focus of the incoming Government.

Watch this space.

This article was written with the assistance of Maia Joseph, Law Graduate.


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