I know that a lot has been written and said about the Federal Election, and this will be my last comment on it. However, now that the dust has settled a little, I think it’s worth revisiting the Coalition’s workplace policies, as a preview to what employers and workers can expect from the Government over the next three years.
In what could generally be described as “pro-worker” policies, the Coalition has committed to:
- Providing casual employees with a right to request to become a permanent full-time or part-time employee;
- Allowing employees to break up their paid parental leave, rather than taking it all in a single block;
- Strengthening protections for migrant workers
- Increasing civil penalties for underpayments and sham contracting;
- Considering criminal penalties for exploitative conduct; and
- Increasing resourcing to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
On the employer side of the ledger, the Coalition has committed to reviewing unfair dismissal laws, specifically in relation to how they intersect with discrimination and anti-bullying policies and safety rules in particular. This will help address situations where employers are forced to choose between clear breaches of their policies that affect their other workers (given their OHS obligations). For example, a person who has breached anti-bullying policies should not be protected and rewarded by the unfair dismissal laws.
And importantly, the Government remains committed to not allowing employees to “double dip” for their entitlements when they are retrospectively recognised as permanent employees after being employed as casuals over a period of time. This follows the case of Workpac v Skene, in which a long-term casual employee was recognised as a permanent by the Fair Work Commission (and later the Federal Court) and therefore entitled to backpay for holiday and sick leave, despite having been paid a casual loading.
The Morrison Government issued the Fair Work Amendment (Casual Loading Offset) Regulations in December last year, to ensure that any backpay awarded after casual conversion to permanent was offset against the casual loading already paid. Before Parliament rose, the Labor Opposition had signalled an intention to overturn the regulations in the Senate. As the Senate did not vote on the disallowance motion before the election was called, Labor can still lodge a new disallowance motion on the regulation when the new Parliament resumes.
The NRA calls on the Opposition to recognise the basic fairness inherent in the regulation – that employees should not be able to “double dip” by being paid casual loading and then retrospectively claiming holiday and sick leave. We call on Labor not to reintroduce the disallowance motion. The regulation has been in place since December, and was a part of the Government’s election platform. We intend to hold them to account on all their workplace relations commitments, and this is a critical one for retailers.