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