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The Closing Loopholes Bill 2023 (Bill) will provide protections for labour-hire and gig economy workers, enable casual to permanent conversion, and criminalise wage theft and industrial manslaughter, according to the Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Burke.

If passed, the proposed legislation will create a new federal offence for wage theft with employers facing a maximum of ten years in jail and fines of up to $7.8 million (or three times the amount of the underpayment if the underpayment exceeds that amount) if deliberately underpaying their workers. The proposed law will not target employers who make honest mistakes, or self-report and take reasonable steps to rectify any underpayments.

The Bill will require businesses to pay labour hire staff the same as employees if they perform the same duties or if the employer’s enterprise agreement would apply to the labour hire worker if they were employed directly. The changes will not apply to small business employers and are likely to take effect at the end of 2024.

From 1 July 2024, the Bill will give “gig workers” (eg delivery drivers working for Uber Eats or Menulog) the ability to apply to the Fair Work Commission for orders on minimum employment standards, including on pay, penalty rates, superannuation and termination/deactivation”.

The Bill will criminalise industrial manslaughter and increase maximum penalties under Federal occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. Federal public servants found responsible for the death of a worker would face up to 25 years in jail and Commonwealth departments could be fined up to $18 million. Maximum penalties for category one offences involving reckless or criminally negligent breaches under the Federal OHS laws will also increase to $15 million- and 15-years imprisonment.

The Bill will also allow eligible casual workers working full-time hours to change their employment status to permanent full time, substituting their 25% casual loading for annual and sick leave entitlements.

This Bill was introduced on 4 September, 2023 and we will provide further updates if it passes.

If you would like more information about the legal implications of these potential changes and how they may affect your business, please contact our experienced Employment and Workplace Relations team for assistance.