Take note: Key changes under Secure Jobs, Better Pay now in effect

Unions already lining up for negotiation as employers sound alarm on changes

Take note: Key changes under Secure Jobs, Better Pay now in effect

Significant workplace reforms on bargaining and flexible work arrangements that were introduced under the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation are officially in effect.

"Australian workers now have access to a better workplace bargaining system that will help lift wages, improve job security, and close the gender pay gap," said Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke in a media release.

The key changes are coming despite opposition from employer groups, who have said the legislation is only making the country's workplace system "more litigious and more complex."

Multi-employer bargaining

Among the changes taking effect are the employer-opposed expansion of multi-enterprise bargaining.

Jo Alilovic, Director 3D HR Legal, previously told HRD that the change expands the ability of employees and unions to force employers to bargain for agreements covering multiple employers.

"The upcoming changes mean that employers will have fewer options to resist bargaining, and they can get locked into a bargaining process," she said.

First-ever application

Hot on the heels of the implementation, unions representing early childhood workers in New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory have lodged the first-ever application with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in a bid to "better recognise and reward the work of thousands of early childhood education workers."

"This initial application, under the new Supported Bargaining Stream, will include over 60 early childhood providers who currently don't have a collective agreement in place for their staff," the Independent Education Union of Australia, one of the unions involved, said in a media release.

National employer organisation Ai Group expressed concern amid reports that unions are "calling for wage increases of 25%."

According to the Ai Group, many employers in the sector do not have the capacity to absorb or pass wage increases of that magnitude.

It also relayed its concerns that the deal to be struck between the unions and the 60 providers involved "ultimately will result in other employers that have played no part in the negotiations later being 'roped into' the coverage of the agreement."

"A major concern for many employers in the sector is that an agreement struck with one group of employers that is not sustainable will unfairly distort the labour market and make it even harder for them to attract and hold staff," Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said in a statement.

Flexible working arrangements

Meanwhile, changes under the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation will also allow employees to dispute rejected requests for flexible working arrangements.

Under the reforms, employers are mandated to provide within 21 days a written explanation on why they rejected an employee's request to carry out flexible work.

Among the "reasonable business grounds" for refusing such requests include:

  • Too costly for the employer
  • No capacity to change the working arrangements of other employees to accommodate the new working arrangement requested
  • Impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees, or recruit new employees, to accommodate the new working arrangements requested
  • New arrangements would likely result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity
  • New arrangements would likely have a significant negative impact on customer service

With the reforms in effect, the FWC said it now has the authority to handle disputes related to flexible work requests.

Burke said the implementation of these workplace reforms will "get wages moving so workers can get ahead."

"The next step is to close the loopholes that undercut pay and conditions – which we'll do in the second half of this year, following extensive consultation," he said.


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