2013: A time for change in employee and industrial relations

Focus: An overview of the changes to employee and industrial relations laws
Services: Employee & industrial relations
Date: 13 February 2013
Author: Paul Almond, Special Counsel & Maree Skinner, Special Counsel

The end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 have seen many legal changes introduced and announced, that affect the costs of employing people, compliance requirements for people managers and the way employers conduct employee and industrial relations.

As we prepare for a federal election in September 2013 and the prospect of further changes, it is good to assess whether all of these changes have been accounted for in your work practices.

The areas of change range from the relatively mundane, changing ‘Fair Work Australia’ to the ‘Fair Work Commission,’ to the significant, such as increases to superannuation contributions.

After detailed work by the Fair Work Review Panel and 53 recommendations, we have mostly underwhelming amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), most of which commenced on 1 January 2013, with changes regarding superannuation measures for awards taking effect as late as 2014. Read more here.

On the superannuation front, besides those processes coming into play for modern awards regarding MySuper and the review of funds to be specified in modern awards, there are changes regarding contribution rates, caps and exemptions including a general contribution increase to 9.25% from 1 July 2013. Read more here.

On 1 January 2013 ‘dad and partner pay’, funded by the Federal Government, became available. Up to two weeks’ pay based on the national minimum wage will be available. Read more here.

Major changes to the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) will come into effect during the first half of 2013. The most important change is the new system of ‘non-fault’ civil penalties, which may be levied against employers, directors and managers who allow employees and contractors to work without the necessary visa. As the title suggests, liability arises whether or not a person is aware of the worker’s unlawful status. Read more here.

Employers can be hit with significant penalties for breaches of the civil penalty provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 and many other federal laws including the Migration Act 1958. From 28 December 2012, the ‘penalty unit’ increased from $110 to $170. That amounts to a 54.5% increase in the penalties that may be levied. Many Fair Work Act civil penalties are set at 60 penalty units, meaning that those have increased from a maximum of $6600 to $10,200.

If your business is involved with tendering for State Government outsourcing or to purchase a State Government business, close attention will need to be paid to financing and business planning with the new Fair Work Act 2009 provisions, which give protection to state public servants of their government conditions of employment. Read more here.

Did you know that 28 January 2013 was world ‘Data Privacy Day?’ On that Day, recognition was given to empower people to protect their privacy, control their digital footprint and escalate the protection of privacy and data as everyone’s priority. And so, in Australia, all companies will need to reconsider the processes for the handling of all personal information to comply with the new Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) by 12 March 2014. While the exemptions for employee records will continue, there are a number of new measures that will affect organisations, including the risk for the first time of civil penalties being levied for breaches. Employee candidates and contractors will continue to be regulated under the new privacy laws. Read more here.

Following on the back of the passage of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth), which introduces new requirements for employers to report on affirmative action in the workplace, major changes to discrimination laws are well on their way, probably during the first half of 2013. Read about the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 here and about the proposed new Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 here.

Employers should be aware of the implementation of the nationally-operating Workplace Health and Safety Acts across Australia: 1 January 2012 for the Commonwealth, NSW, Queensland, ACT and Northern Territory; and 1 January 2013 for Tasmania and South Australia. WA and Victoria are not currently joining the new system.

Companies that supply goods will need to be more aware of their credit risks due to the increased access employees will have to recover employee entitlements if their employer becomes insolvent under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012 (Cth). Read more here.

Finally, at the end of 2013, ‘notional agreements preserving State awards’ (the so-called NAPSAs) along with federal enterprise awards that are not modernised beforehand will cease to operate.

For more information, please contact a member of the DibbsBarker Employee & Industrial Relations team.
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