The dust has now settled on the May federal election, with the Albanese-led Australian Labor Party taking power thanks to an outright majority in the House of Representatives. But in the Senate, it’s a different story, with Labor likely to have to negotiate with the Greens and others to pass legislation. 

Labor’s election platform included real changes to workplace relations laws, including an emphasis on protecting workers in the gig economy. We explore what their platform means for you, and how it’s likely to be impacted by their position in the Upper House.

An emphasis on protecting workers in the gig economy

One of the main thrusts of the ALP’s platform is to more fully protect workers in the gig economy. This comes in light of recent high-profile cases concerning the potential underpayment of gig workers, as well as questions of who bore liability for delivery drivers killed on the job.

Most notably, the Labor government wants to tighten the definition of ‘casual employment’ in the Fair Work Act so that it includes an objective test of what constitutes a casual employee. (You probably remember the ongoing saga of the Workpac case, which ended in the High Court.) The government says any amendments will be based on the actual nature of the employment relationship rather than the agreed terms and conditions of employment.

More secure work for Australians

In line with the rise of gig workers, a real trend that we’ve seen over the past couple of decades is the growth of job insecurity. The new government wants to change this, allowing the Fair Work Commission to rule on the minimum standards that apply to employees engaged in new and changing ways. As part of this approach, the government says it will include ‘job security’ in the objectives of the Fair Work Act. This will mean the FWC must take job security into account when making any decision.

The government will attempt to bring in laws that dissuade employers from reducing wages by sourcing employees from labour-hire firms, as its platform says:

We have seen too many examples of companies across a variety of industries deliberately using labour hire to undercut the negotiated pay and conditions of workers who are employed directly.”

On top of this, the new government will limit the use of rolling fixed-term contracts, so that no employee can be engaged on a fixed-term basis for more than 24 months.

Labor’s getting tougher on rogue employers

The new government wants to make it a criminal offence for an employer to profit off their staff by denying them entitlements. Citing the 7-Eleven case, the government says this practice has reached ‘epidemic proportions’ and that disproportionately affects migrant workers, young people and women. 

It will also allow employees to pursue claims of underpayment of superannuation – something they don’t have unless it’s written into their employment contract. Currently, many employees need to rely on the ATO to track down underpayment on their behalf. 

A renewed focus on equality for women

Noting that women are overrepresented in casual, insecure and low-paid work, the Albanese-led government pledges to strengthen the Fair Work Commission’s ability to order pay increases for female-dominated industries. It also says it will fully implement all 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report and will include 10 days’ family and domestic violence leave within the 10 National Employment Standards.  

Finally, the government says that it will ‘push to close the gender pay gap by legislating so companies with more than 250 employees will have to ‘report their gender pay gap publicly’. So, if you’re a larger employer, get ready to report!

And what about that Senate…

While the government’s agenda focuses on equality and security, it’s of course dependent on it being able to get its legislation through the Senate. After all, a majority of 39 is needed to pass any laws in the Upper House, and the ALP has just 26 seats. That means it will be reliant on the Green (who hold 12 seats) as well as at least one independent Senator. 

It’s likely, therefore, that the government will also have to negotiate with the Australian  Greens when it comes to implementing some of its industrial relations agenda.

Fortunately for the government, the Greens’ platform has the same emphasis on job security and equality as the government – but sometimes it tends to go much further. 

For instance, the Greens want to see the minimum wage lifted to 60% of the median wage (this could be as high as $55,000 if based on full-time earnings, up significantly from its current level of $42,255.20). 

The Greens would also like more money invested in creating jobs in both the renewables and the arts sectors and want a new ‘Future of Work’ Commission to be established. This new body would examine issues such as digitisation, flexibility, remote working and a four-day work week, and would make recommendations to government. 

In short…

The election of a new government – and the path it needs to follow to pass laws – will mean that there are likely to be several changes to the workplace relations landscape. 

If you’d like to know more about what this specifically means for your business, get in touch.