AHA backs proposed Industrial Relations bill

10 December, 2020 by Vanessa Cavasinni

The Australian Hotels Association (AHA) has voiced its support for the Federal Government’s Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, which was introduced into Parliament on Wednesday, suggesting it will bring clarity to employers and employees alike.

The Omnibus bill contains new measures targeting five key areas of the IR system, particularly for the hospitality and retail industries, which have the highest proportion of a casual workforce:

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Award simplification – Cutting red tape, improving flexibility and job opportunities in 12 Awards covering the retail and hospitality sectors, which were hit hard by the pandemic and saw heavy job losses;

Greenfields agreements – Boosting investment in job-creating mega-projects by making them more attractive to global investors through new maximum eight-year life-of-construction agreements, complete with appropriate safeguards and guaranteed wage increases;

Casual employment – Ending the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the legal status of casuals, while providing a clearer pathway for those working regular shifts to convert to permanent roles after 12 months if they wish to do so;

Enterprise Bargaining – Reversing the decline in agreement making by simplifying the “better off overall” BOOT test and setting a 21-day approval deadline to help drive productivity gains and real wage growth;

Compliance and enforcement – Reducing the risk of wage underpayments by helping employers comply with their obligations, providing improved mechanisms to rectify underpayments where they do occur, and protecting employee entitlements by introducing a new criminal penalty with a four-year jail term for the very small number of employers who deliberately exploit their workers.

Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter, said the reforms were a fair and balanced response to help grow the workforce in the industries most severely impacted by the pandemic, and these industries were already seeing some positive signs of recovery.

“But our success has not been without pain for many workers who have lost jobs or lost working hours. Regrowing those jobs – especially in some of our hardest hit industries such as the retail and hospitality sectors – is an enormous challenge that our IR reforms will help us to meet.”

AHA CEO Stephen Ferguson said the Bill brings clarity to the definition of a casual employee, particularly after the controversial Workpac v Rossato decision in which a long-term casual worker was deemed entitled to both the 25 per cent casual leave loading, as well as the leave entitlements normally associated with permanent work.

“The Bill also protects employers by allowing them to offset casual loadings that have already been paid – no one should be paid twice for the same thing,” Mr Ferguson said.

“This is a common sense remedy to deal with the potential exposure to double-dipping claims that have arisen from the Federal Court’s ruling.”

“The right of an employee to convert from casual employment to permanent employment after 12 months if they have worked a regular pattern of hours already exists in the Hospitality Award, providing the conversion was reasonable on business grounds.”

“Whilst conversion from casual to permanent employment would result in the loss of a 25% casual loading, that was balanced by employees having a reliable pay cheque plus annual and sick leave – the choice is for the employee to make.”

“The AHA also supports the continuation of flexibility that enables employers to give directions to change work location of duties of employees.”

“The hospitality and accommodation industries are still affected by a range of direct and indirect COVID-19 related trading restrictions.”

“We are not out of the woods with the COVID-19 pandemic yet and this flexibility will help employers protect employees from underemployment.”

There has been some criticism of the Bill since it was introduced into Parliament yesterday, with the ALP and the ACTU suggesting that some measures in the Bill will result in a decrease in pay for employees.

Attorney General Porter said the Bill was only at the beginning of the consultation process, and was likely to be examined in detail by a Senate Committee for months to come.

“This is an opportunity for further submissions to be made by all sides of the debate and the Government will be willing to consider any sensible amendments that pass the simple test of being good for job growth.”