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There are significant amendments being proposed to the Fair Work Act 2009, which anyone in business needs to be aware of.

The Fairwork Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 is presently being considered by Parliament. If the proposed changes come into force, there are a number of significant changes that employers in particular will need to be aware of.

Amongst the raft of changes, the Bill proposes protections for labour-hire and gig economy workers, enable casual to permanent conversion for employees, and criminalise wage theft and industrial manslaughter.

One of these changes is that the Bill proposes to 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 the employer is deliberately underpaying its workers. It is important, however, to note that 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 also 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. These changes will not apply to small business employers (less than 15 people).

The Bill will criminalise industrial manslaughter and increase maximum penalties under Federal occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

The Bill will also allow eligible casual workers working full-time hours to seek to change their employment status to permanent full time, substituting their 25% casual loading for annual and sick leave entitlements. The mechanism for doing so will be if the employee provides notification to the employer of a desire to do so.

It is going to be important for all employers to keep an eye on these changes and make sure they are complying with whatever changes eventually come through.

This article was published in The Stock Journal.