In 2022 and 2023, the Federal Government introduced the Secure Jobs, Better Pay legislation. This legislation paved the way for substantial changes within Australian workplaces. However, there is more to come with the Closing Loopholes Bill proposed to amend the Fair Work Act to close perceived loopholes regarding pay and conditions. It will also seek to strengthen health and safety measures.
Some of the key proposed changes include:
- Changes to casual employment: Presently employees may be engaged under a casual contract that includes reference to ‘no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work’ but quickly begin to work a regular pattern of work up to full-time hours. The new definition of a ‘casual employee’ will add factors such as the practical reality of the employment relationship, any mutual understanding or expectation between the employer and the employee and whether other employees are engaged to do the same work on a permanent basis.
A casual employee will also be entitled to request a conversion to permanent employment after just 6 months of employment (down from 12 months). However, it will be 12 months for small businesses.
- Criminalisation of ‘wage theft’: The Bill will seek to criminalise the deliberate underpayment of wages. The maximum penalties will include 10 years imprisonment and/or a penalty three times the value of the underpayment or $1.5m for an individual and $7.8m for a corporation. Investigations of suspected offences will be undertaken by the Fair Work Ombudsman who will also have the discretion to not pursue criminal proceedings if an employer self-discloses potential underpayments
- Minimum standards for gig workers: The proposals will allow minimum standards to be set for gig economy workers (eg. Uber drivers). This may include terms and conditions such as payment terms, deductions and working time.
- Amendments to the WHS Act 2011: Included is a proposed Commonwealth industrial manslaughter offence with penalties of $18m for a corporation and 25 years imprisonment for an individual.
Currently, the Bill is in draft form and may change. However, it is important to be aware of the potential changes.
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