Greens introduce bill to enforce flexible work conditions

by 16 Feb 2012

Employer advocacy groups have expressed concerns about a new bill introduced to parliament by the Greens, which if passed, will allow employees the right to complain to Fair Work Australia (FWA) if their request for flexible hours is denied by their employer.

On Monday, federal Greens MP Adam Bandt introduced the bill to amend the Fair Work Act which would enable all permanent workers with more than 12 months' service the right to appeal to a FWA tribunal if their request for flexible working hours is denied by their employer. Currently, employers may deny flexible work requests if it falls outside their operational business needs. The bill proposes to allow FWA the power to issue a ‘flexible working arrangements order’ if they determine the employee’ request could be reasonably accommodated.

In a statement, Bandt said the onus will be on employers to prove “serious countervailing business reasons” if they refuse requests to flexible work arrangements. He added that it wouldn’t apply to businesses with an obvious business requirement to have employees on-site. According to the bill, examples of changes in working arrangements may include changes to the hours of work, location and patterns of work.

The bill will be put to the Employment and Education Committee, and unions, employers and employer groups will be invited to make submissions.

Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Peter Strong told SmartCompany that the amendment would strip employers of the right to determine what arrangements work best for their business. “You've got a situation here where a person makes a decision they think is correct for their own business.” Strong added that subsequent appeals to FWA is an extremely time consuming process, and a decision made by the tribunal in relation to a single employee could affect many others within the same business.

However, Bandt said the amendment would allow for increased productivity and would be appropriately balanced against employers' legitimate operational needs.

“If people want to work different hours or work from home so that their life is better, then the law should allow it, provided it doesn't unduly impact on their employer,”Bandt said. “Allowing workers more flexible hours will be a productivity bonus for the economy. Business will benefit from this reform and good employers are already promoting work/life balance. Satisfied employees are likely to remain in a workplace longer, be healthier and more productive.”

The Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012 proposes to:

  • Give employees who have been in their job 12 months enforceable rights to request flexible working arrangements, including the number of hours they work, the scheduling of those hours and the location of work

  • For carers who are looking after another person, employers may refuse flexible arrangements only where there are serious countervailing business reasons. For all other employees, employers can refuse on operational grounds

  • Give Fair Work Australia the ability to hear and determine any disputes if an employer refuses a request


  • by Graham 16/02/2012 2:21:32 PM

    this is just madness by the loopy greens again, who clearly do not understand about running a business. Business is tough enough without this ridiculous rules. Will just make companies employ people on casual or shorter term contracts.

  • by A different Graham 17/02/2012 10:18:36 AM

    Whilst I agree that this bill goes too far, it does highlight the fact that the current 'right to request flexible working' carries no weight whatsoever. "Good' employers were considering requests for flexible working long before the FWA came in to force. I've seen large multi-national corporations repeatedly fob off legitimate and workable flexible work requests under the flimsy guise of 'reasonable business grounds' when the real reason is an unwillingness to embrace the realities of todays workforce. Under the current laws, there is no viable way to appeal a refusal of a request unless there is ground for discrimination, or leave to join a more flexible employer - either way its a lose/lose outcome. There needs to be a more robust way of ensuring requests are considered fairly.

  • by Estelle 17/02/2012 11:25:27 AM

    From personal experience it's great to have flexible working hours. We have an office of three who work flexible hours, this includes myself and our boss. We also work till all hours if need be, even though we are not requested to. Our aim is to ensure what ever needs doing in our workplace is done on time. We do any work that needs to be done, whether it's the accounting, administration, OHS, HR, moving our furniture, producting reports; P&L, tax returns, cleaning, and lots more. We also have another team of three who are sales staff and their hours are set but are also allowed flexible time for personal reasons if need be. The flexible working arragement was never in our contracts, and we have been here for many, many years. It works great for us, but it would not work for every workplace, nor for the previous business we have owned and managed, and I do not belive we would be setting up another property with the same arrangement as to the nature of the property we would be setting up. If anything our hours would not be as flexible then. Personally I would not be in support of putting this bill through because it would create a nightmare for not just employers but also employees. Now think about it, would the employer not also have the right to request flexible hours from the employee to meet business demands, reporting requirements? We are creating more work for the lawyers and the courts. For goodness sake get real and let each business handle this on a one to one basis. If an employee is treated unfairly they can still go to the Fairwork Ombudsman. We don't need additional work for the Fairwork Ombudsman. We have far too many laws already which are not being followed because small businesses cannot keep up and or employ more staff to ensure these laws are complied with. Look what's happened to our manufacturing industry, that's right we have very little of it. Think about why and it's not just the cheap labour overseas, if anything we are encouraging non human rights compliance by allowing businesses to take their manufacturing overseas. Me am just an employee with very strong work ethics. I don't have anyone working under me, I have no authority, no degrees, but lots of experience and knowledge and honesty and am not afraid of hard work.

Most Read