The ANF recently made a submission to federal parliamentary committees inquiring into proposed changes to the Fair Work Act. The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013 proposes a range of changes to the Fair Work Act and is the second set of amendments arising out of a review of the Act last year. Overall, the changes are welcome, although the ANF submitted that the changes could have gone further in certain respects.
One of the most welcome changes is the introduction of a bullying jurisdiction in the Fair Work Commission (FWC). This would enable workers who reasonably believe that they are being bullied at work to apply (for a small application fee) to the FWC for an order to stop the bullying. FWC would be required to start dealing with any applications quickly (within 14 days of the application). The Commission would not be able to award monetary compensation but would be able to make orders directed at the relevant individuals or employer to cease bullying conduct. Orders could also be made against a group of individuals and visitors to the workplace. While employers still need to meet their duty to ensure a healthy and safe workplace by preventing bullying occurring in the first place, the proposed changes give affected workers a cheap and efficient option to take action themselves in the absence of action by employers or OHS regulators.
Other important changes that would be introduced by the Bill include expanding the range of employees who can request flexible working arrangements to a wider range of employees who have caring responsibilities and to those who are experiencing family (domestic) violence. Employers are required to consider any requests and have reasonable business grounds for refusing any requests. The ANF is disappointed however that the Act continues to prevent employees challenging unreasonable refusals at either FWC or through the courts except in restricted circumstances.
Another welcome change is a requirement for employers to consult with employees regarding changes to their regular roster or ordinary hours of work and allow employees to be represented during that consultation. This will assist employees ensure that their family and caring requirements are taken into account by an employer before making changes to hours of work and the arrangement of those hours.
If the Bill is passed by Parliament before the federal election in September, some of the changes will come into effect by late 2013 while others will commence on 1 January 2014. If the Bill is not passed before the election, we would expect any incoming conservative government to not proceed with the proposals.
Federal Industrial Officer