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BIC discusses the view from Canberra

BIC casts its eye over industrial relations reforms made since the recent Jobs and Skills Summit

On September 1 and 2 this year, the federal government held its Jobs and Skills Summit. The Summit was comprised of a variety of government announcements and an assortment of panel discussions with advocates, experts, and contributions from the audience. The Summit themes focused on:

• maintaining full employment and enhancing productivity

• boosting job security and wages

• lifting participation and reducing barriers to employment

• delivering a high-quality labour force through skills, training and migration, and

• maximising opportunities in future industries.

The bus and coach industry employs more than 45,000 drivers, and according to the National Skills Commission, only thirteen per cent are female. The Summit shone a spotlight on gender equality, with the role women play being a core focus. Australia has been revealed as falling behind our Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) neighbours in gender equality. Summit keynote speaker Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute, remarked on how Australia has one of the most gender segregated and divided workforces, and one which invests less in parental leave than other OECD countries. There was unanimous agreement at the Summit that improving women’s workforce participation is critical for economic prosperity and resilience, ensuring pay equality and enabling women to participate fully in the workplace in safe and respectful work environments.

During discussions on enterprise bargaining, both union and business groups demonstrated alignment in their view that enterprise bargaining has not met expectations and amendments to the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) are required. The general theme encouraged simplification, however no consensus was made in the form of any changes. Union groups advocated for legislation enabling multi-employer bargaining, allowing employees within an industry to bargain together under the same agreement, in lieu of the applicable modern award. Business groups argued against multi-employer bargaining.

The Summit outlined a two-stage Industry Relation (IR) reform package and the establishment of Jobs and Skills Australia. Several new Bills were immediately introduced to Parliament enabling Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave, and changing Anti–Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation, to adopt the remainder of the ‘Respect at Work’ recommendations from the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The Treasurer also released Terms of Reference for an Employment White Paper, calling for submissions on ways to enhance productivity and full employment.

The Bus Industry Confederation’s (BIC) industrial arm in the Australian Public Transport Industrial Association (APTIA) has been working hard to support the industry in light of these announcements. APTIA, in conjunction with its Industrial Working Group (IWG), works to ensure that industry members are protected against any adverse legislation by providing a full understanding of the operation of legislation and providing examples of how to work within it.

Stage one of the government’s IR policies introduces the Fair Work Amendment (Secure Pay, Better Jobs) Bill 2022. The Bill was presented to Parliament on October 27 and comprises the most comprehensive changes to industrial relations in Australia since the introduction of the Fair Work Act 2009. The Bill introduces Multi-Enterprise Bargaining for industry by replacing the current award system with industry agreements. This has potential implications for competitive tendering.

The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2022:

• Abolishes the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisation Commission.

• Prohibits sexual harassment in connection with work, by providing sanctions for breach.

• Provides the right of an employee requesting flexible working hours to challenge a rejection from an employer in the Fair Work Commission.

• Provides a sunset clause for ‘zombie’ agreements, being those long-term agreements that while applying to a workplace are seriously outdated.

• Providing circumstances where both single interest agreements and multiple agreements are able to be made more easily, and

• Enhancing the mechanism for employees to make small claims in the local courts for unpaid wages.

Stage one of the reforms has been referred to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee (Committee) to report on the impacts of the Bill by November 17 this year. APTIA, with input from the IWG, will be making a submission and are also seeking to participate in the public hearings of the Committee.

The BIC and APTIA will be following the reforms closely.

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