The first phase of the Rudd Government's Fair Work Act 2009 will take effect on 1 July 2009, replacing the old Work Choices legislation.
The Act is set to give employees more power and flexibility within the workplace, and will significantly affect the future of employment relationships.
Gadens Lawyers workplace relations partner, John-Anthony Hodgens, said employers across the board should be aware of the upcoming changes and their new legal obligations.
"There are quite a few important changes that businesses should be aware of but I think the real 'sleeping giant' will be Award Modernisation," Hodgens said.
"Current awards are being reviewed into a national system that is set to increase the minimum rate of pay in certain industries.
"This change could have a significant effect on your business' bottom line so it is a good idea to determine your likely exposure and begin budgeting for any increase from January 2010."
There are further changes on the horizon for Award Modernisation (it will remain subject to amendments for at least another year), so businesses should monitor the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's website and seek professional advice.
Along with Award Modernisation, Hodgens suggested businesses consider the following in relation to the upcoming reforms:
- What will happen with unfair dismissal claims?
New unfair dismissal laws will operate from 1 July 2009. New provisions require six months service from an employee before an unfair dismissal claim can be lodged, or 12 months for smaller employees (less than 15 equivalent full time staff). Employees will also only have 14 days to bring an unfair dismissal claim instead of the current 21 days.
- Are you planning for redundancies?
After 30 June 2009, employers will be required to demonstrate that redeployment across the business was considered prior to termination in a redundancy event.
- Can employees request collective bargaining?
Yes. From 1 July 2009, employers must bargain collectively in good faith with employees who want a collective agreement regarding their workplace conditions. Fines can be imposed for a failure to bargain in good faith and Fair Work Australia can make orders to determine the dispute.
- What will be the role of Fair Work Australia?
Fair Work Australia (FWA) will replace the bodies that currently administer the Workplace Relations Act including the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the Workplace Authority, the Workplace Ombudsman and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.