We begin our discussion of the 2022 federal election by providing an overview of the Coalition’s Industrial Relations policies that have recently made headlines.
Changes to the IR Omnibus Bill
Over the Easter long weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made comments that the government was committed to reintroducing the Omnibus Bill, which it failed to pass last year.
The Omnibus Bill proposed a number of changes, including criminalising ‘wage theft’, allowing part-time employees to agree to work overtime hours at their standard rate, allowing longer term greenfields agreement for major projects, simplifying the award system and reforming the enterprise agreement system.
The Omnibus Bill also proposed changes to the application of the ‘Better Off Overall Test’ to allow the Fair Work Commission to approve enterprise agreements that do not meet the test to alleviate pressure on employers affected by the pandemic.
Despite the Prime Minister’s comments, IR Minister Michaelia Cash stated "The Morrison Government is not changing the Better Off Overall Test – full stop." A campaign spokesperson also clarified that some pandemic specific proposals may no longer be necessary.
While it remains unclear what changes would be made to the unsuccessful Omnibus Bill introduced in 2021, it appears that the bill is likely to be a watered down version as indicated by the IR Minister and campaign spokesperson.
In a speech to WA’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy, the Prime Minister confirmed that if re-elected, the Coalition government would again introduce legislation to extend the maximum term of greenfields agreements from four to six years.
The new greenfield proposal will be introduced as a standalone reform and split-off from the resurrected Omnibus package to maximise its prospects of being passed. The proposed six-year agreements would provide more certainty on pay and conditions with workers receiving a pay increase every year. The proposed reforms would also be restricted to major projects worth $500 million or more.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the government’s proposal with the Chief Executive noting that “this reform will provide businesses with the certainty and confidence that major projects will be completed on time and on budget … Investors, employers and employees alike are set to benefit from this commitment that will encourage investment and create jobs across the country.”
While the six-year proposal is less than the eight-year proposal from 2021, the Coalition is clearly committed to legislating to encourage businesses to undertake major projects in Australia.
Tackling union ‘lawlessness’
The Coalition has vowed to tackle ‘union lawlessness and thuggery’ by holding unions and union officials to account. If re-elected, the Coalition government will seek to double the maximum penalties that can be imposed on unions for unlawful conduct, including coercion and unlawful industrial action. Under the Coalition’s proposal, the maximum penalties would increase to $444,000.00 for a union and $88,800.00 for a union official.
Since winning government in 2013, the Coalition has restored the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), banned secret and corrupt payments between employers and unions and allowed parts of an amalgamated union or employer body to de-merge if dissatisfied with the larger organisation.
The ABCC has since cracked down on the unlawful behaviour of construction unions and reportedly reduced days lost to industrial action by over 50%. This financial year alone, the ABCC has imposed over $2.17m in penalties against the CFMEU in an attempt to ensure compliance with the law. Notably, Labor has proposed to abolish the ABCC if elected this May.
Since John Howard’s election loss in 2007, the Coalition has viewed industrial relations reform as a vote loser. Other than the 2021 Omnibus bill, the Coalition has not committed to any new or significant policies in the area, rather focusing on building a stronger Australian economy and shifting the spotlight to Labor’s controversial IR policies (e.g. abolishing the ABCC).
While the Coalition has not been crystal clear on their industrial relations policy, a resurrected ‘Omnibus’ Bill could see a number of changes as outlined above.
If you have any questions on how these changes may affect you, please contact our experienced Employment and Workplace Relations team for assistance.
This article was contributed to by Law Clerk, Maida Mujkic.