“The Times They are a-Changin” – so goes the Bob Dylan song. The same is true of workplace relations in 2023 with the federal government putting on its reform running shoes. Federal Workplace Minister Tony Burke recently said his strategy is to lift the floor for workforces and close loopholes in workplace laws used by employers to undercut legal requirements in order to protect the revenue of every Australian worker. Here is a brief summary of recent and coming changes which have been legislated.

Pay secrecy – From 7 December 2022, pay secrecy is effectively prohibited and new employees have a workplace right to disclose pay information. This extends to wage or salary rates, working hours information, commission rates, bonus criteria (including key performance indicators – KPIs) and fringe benefits such as motor vehicles. Pay secrecy clauses in new contracts will be prohibited from 7 June 2023 but any existing provisions will continue to operate.

Paid family and domestic violence leave– From 1 February 2023, employees (including part time and casual employees) can now access 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave in a 12 month period at their full pay rate. For small business employers (with less than 15 employees), the change will take effect from 1 August 2023. This requirement replaces the current entitlement to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave under the National Employment Standards. Whilst the full amount is immediately available, it does not accumulate from year to year. The entitlement will renew on the anniversary of employment for existing employees. There are also rules about how information about family and domestic violence leave must be reported on pay slips.  Employees can take this paid leave if they need to do something to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence. This could include the employee making arrangements for their safety, or the safety of a close relative (including relocation), attending court hearings, accessing police services, attending counselling and attending appointments with medical, financial or legal professionals.

Sexual harassment– From 6 March 2023, employees will be able to make application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for orders to stop sexual harassment in connection with work that occurs after that date. There are also new avenues for complainants to claim compensation and penalties for workplace related sexual harassment.

Flexible work arrangements – From 6 June 2023, the FWC will be able to hear and determine disputes about flexible work requests and requests for extension of unpaid parental leave.

Increase in small wage claims cap – From 1 July 2023, the amount that employees can claim for wages and entitlements through the small claims processes will increase from $20,000 to $100,000 making it easier for employees to bring legal claims.

Fixed term contracts – From 6 December 2023, (with limited exceptions) employers will not be able to use fixed term contracts for the same role beyond two years or two successive contracts and will have to provide Fixed Term Contract information statements to employees. The FWC will also have power to deal with fixed term contract disputes and there will be penalties for breaches.

“Zombie” enterprise agreements – Certain enterprise agreements made before 1 January 2010 have remained in force with resulting inequities for employees when compared to award entitlements. They will now automatically terminate on 7 December 2023 unless extended by specific FWC order. Employers have until 6 June 2023 to advise employees of the sunset date. There have also been a number of other significant changes to enterprise bargaining requirements although we consider enterprise agreements will still be unattractive to the majority of employers.

There are more proposed changes in the second half of the year with the government commencing consultation on:

• Equal pay for labour hire workers;
• Changing the definition of casual employment to reflect the substance of the relationship rather than the form;
• Expanding FWC powers to deal with gig workers;
• Criminalising wage theft at a federal level;
• Allowing all workers to sue directly to recover superannuation contributions;
• Introducing a low cost jurisdiction for the FWC to deal with unfair contract disputes for independent contractors.

The above summary is far from exhaustive and is general in nature. You can refer to the newsroom section of the Fair Work Ombudsman website for more information. Or contact us if you would like any further information or help.