Parliament has finished sitting for the year, and while several major pieces of legislation occupied most of the attention in Canberra this week, a host of other bills also passed.
Among them are reforms to crack down on small businesses skipping out on their superannuation obligations.
Under the reforms, which have passed the Senate, the commissioner of taxation will be able to compel employers to pay unpaid superannuation guarantee entitlements and also undertake education courses.
It will mean the ATO will be responsible for identifying and collecting unpaid super, rather than individual workers or employees.
The ATO has estimated the superannuation guarantee gap — the difference between the value of super contributions and what’s required to be paid under law — was about $2.79 billion in 2015-16.
The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees chief executive Eva Scheerlinck has welcomed the reforms.
“Workers have suffered, while non-compliant employers have had an unfair advantage over the majority of employers who are good corporate citizens,” she said in a statement.
The changes also include an extension of single touch payroll reporting to businesses with less than 19 workers. We’ve published a separate explainer on that change.
Fair Work Commission changes
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) will no longer be required to conduct customary four-year reviews of modern awards thanks to new laws passed earlier this week.
The FWC will undertake award reviews on an as-needs or by-request basis under the amended system.
The Fair Work Act amendment, which was introduced into parliament in March, also allows the FWC to overlook small technical errors in enterprise agreement applications, which were making it more difficult for employers to participate in the bargaining process.
The simplification was been described by Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer as common sense.
“These are common sense reforms. Under the current arrangements we have seen unintended, and sometimes absurd, outcomes which have caused lengthy delays,” O’Dwyer said in a statement.
“The Fair Work Commission has rejected an enterprise agreement where an employer printed the notice to employees at the start of the bargaining process onto a piece of paper with the company letterhead on it, rather than a plain piece of paper.”
Unpaid domestic violence leave passed
The Coalition also passed reforms which will amend the Fair Work Act to guarantee five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave to workers.
The move extends an FWC decision from earlier this year to insert similar provisions into many modern awards to all workers.
The changes fall short of what Labor is calling for, which includes the provision of paid domestic violence leave.
“While this is a welcome development, it doesn’t go far enough,” Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese wrote earlier this week.
“What is needed is 10 days of paid domestic violence leave — a position consistent with the statements of many victims, frontline workers, businesses, unions and organisations that deal daily with domestic violence.”
New FWC appointments
New appointments to the Fair Work Commission have ignited a row with unions, who have accused the government of stacking the independent body in favour of employers.
O’Dwyer moved to address concern the FWC is under-resourced on Friday, announcing the appointment of six new deputy presidents and a commissioner.
But while the Minister maintains the appointees are “highly qualified and well regarded”, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has accused the government of bringing in “big-business lobbyists”.
The deputy president appointments include existing commissioner Tony Saunders, former BHP Coal HR executive Nicholas Lake, former NSW employer group representative Gerard Boyce, Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Janine Young, former NSW Nurses’ Association industrial officer Bryce Cross, and director of workplace relations for the Australian Mines and Metals Association Amanda Mansini.
Leyla Yilmaz, principal of LLY Business Consultancy, has been appointed as a commissioner.
The appointments will all be in effect by the end of next February, with the exception of Young, who will start on March 11.
“These additional appointments will give the Fair Work Commission the ability to approve pay increases and better working conditions more quickly for Australian workers,” O’Dwyer said in a statement.
However, the ACTU says there will now only be 14 representatives of “working people” on the commission, compared to 30 “business representatives”.
“These six appointments will result in a Fair Work Commission that is almost two-thirds comprised of people who’ve spent their lives attacking working people’s rights as big business lawyers and lobbyists,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus said in a statement.