Workplace policies — major parties

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Workplace policies — major parties

Relatively few formal policy announcements on workplace policy matters have been made by either the ALP or the Coalition in the course of the election campaign, with both major parties committed to retaining the existing Fair Work industrial relations system and neither proposing any substantive changes or amendments.

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Relatively few formal policy announcements on workplace policy matters have been made by either the ALP or the Coalition in the course of the election campaign, with both major parties committed to retaining the existing Fair Work industrial relations system and neither proposing any substantive changes or amendments.
 
The major announcements by the ALP concern broader workplace policy matters including increasing protections and rights of workers’ entitlements (ie superannuation, GEERS, paid parental leave).
 
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has provided an overview (below) of the current state of play on workplace relations and the election.
 
Government
 
Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Minister for Workplace Relations Simon Crean have indicated a number of times on the public record that the government believes it has ‘got the balance right’ and would not be making changes to the Fair Work laws.
 
On 25 July, the Minister announced three separate commitments to better protect employees workplace entitlements.
  1. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee will protect workers’ entitlements including redundancy pay (up to a maximum of four weeks for each year of service), all annual leave, all long service leave, up to three months of unpaid wages and up to a maximum of five weeks unpaid payment in lieu of notice. The Guarantee will not apply to the portion of income earned above the annually indexed rate of $108,300 nor to directors or ‘excluded employees’ of the employing company as defined by s556 of the Corporations Act 2001. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee will be legislated. Payments under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee will only be made after an employee’s company enters liquidation. (This policy would essentially replicate the former Howard Government’s administrative GEERS scheme. The only major change appears to be an extension of the 16 weeks of redundancy pay and the creation of a legislative rather than administrative scheme, thereby removing the inherent flexibility currently possessed within the current framework).
  2. The Securing Super policy will strengthen compliance measures to ensure employees receive their superannuation entitlements. Employees will receive information on their payslips about the amount of superannuation actually paid into their account and quarterly notification from their superannuation fund if regular payments cease. These reforms are said to follow from the recommendations of the Cooper Review of Superannuation that called for more timely payment and disclosure of all superannuation payments (Recommendation 9.16). The enforcement powers of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) will also be enhanced. The ATO and the FWO will be given stronger powers to ensure businesses pay their employees’ Superannuation Guarantee (SG) through an extension of the directors’ penalty regime to cover unpaid superannuation entitlements and improving the capacity of the ATO to conduct proactive compliance activity and investigate workers’ complaints.
  3. The Strengthening Corporate and Taxation Law will give the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) increased powers and strengthen penalties to take action against companies. Reforms will be introduced that target ‘phoenix’ company arrangements. ASIC will be given stronger powers to place companies into liquidation when they have been ‘abandoned by their directors to ensure employees can get swifter access to their unpaid entitlements’. The ranking of employee creditors working for unincorporated companies will be improved to bring their ranking into line with the priority given to employee creditors of incorporated companies. This will be done by aligning the priority of employee entitlements under the Bankruptcy Act with the s556 protections of the Corporations Act. Directors will be made personally liable for the debts of companies that have deceptively similar names to failed businesses previously run by the same directors. The final model of this proposed law will be determined through public consultation, drawing on existing legislation in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Other commitments include:
  • increasing the SG contribution levy from 9% to 12% by 2020 and increasing the upper age limit from 70 to 75 (the threshold was last lifted from 65 to 70 on 1 July 1997)
  • introducing from 1 July 2013 MySuper superannuation product (arising from the Cooper Review). According to the government:
‘A member can opt out of MySuper to another fund of their choice, including self-managed super. Employees who do not nominate a super fund will have their contributions automatically paid into a MySuper product. MySuper funds will also become the only funds eligible to be nominated as default funds in a modern Award or industrial agreement.’
  • requiring Fair Work Australia to review the default superannuation funds named in modern awards so that only those funds meeting the MySuper criteria continue to be included in modern awards as default funds
  • requesting the Productivity Commission to design a process for the selection and ongoing review of the superannuation funds to be included in modern awards or enterprise agreements as default funds. The process will be based on objective criteria and evidence and be subject to systematic review, so that the selection of eligible default funds is transparent and competitive and is subject to systematic review
  • requiring from 1 July 2011 that an individual’s TFN will be the primary identifier of member accounts, subject to strict conditions to ensure privacy and security of information
  • responding, if re-elected, to the remaining recommendations before the end of the year in consultation with industry, and consumer and business groups.
 
For the ALP election policies and announcements, click here.
 
Coalition
 
Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, made no new announcement on workplace/industrial relations in the Coalition’s policy launch on 8 August.
 
On 17 July, the Coalition issued a Statement on Workplace Relations, which announced it would not seek any changes to the Fair Work Act during its first term, should it win the federal election.
 
Instead, the Coalition:
‘... will work within the existing legislation and with the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia, to ensure that the current Act delivers the best possible outcomes.’
It has indicated possible changes in its second term as
‘[I]t’s only after possible improvements have been fully considered by the people affected and by the electorate at large at a subsequent election that the Coalition would consider making any changes.’
The Coalition has pledged to retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).
 
For the Coalition election policies and announcements, click here.
 
Greens
 
The Greens have a longer wish list — noted in a previous WorkplaceInfo story.
 
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