Fair Work Amendment Bill passes – everything you need to know about the changes

The Federal Government has finally passed the Fair Work Amendment Bill through the Senate, although business groups are now saying work has to be done to make more substantial changes to industrial relations laws.

The amendments, which include some minor changes to unfair dismissal laws, have been welcomed by industrial relations experts.

“It’s mostly technical amendments,” says industrial relations lawyer and expert Peter Vitale, who also told SmartCompany the changes will bring some relief to businesses.

Business groups including the Australian Industry Group have said the government now needs to get to work on more substantial changes. Chief executive Innes Willox said it’s now time to focus “on the most important issues”.

Even though the amendments might be minor, businesses still need to keep on top of them. Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know about the changes.

More powers to strike down applications

Fair Work now has the power to strike out an application for award variations that have no reasonable prospects for success.

Union coverage

There are quite a few changes when it comes to unions. The amendments include that bargaining notices have to be more specific. Another key change: Union officials can no longer be a bargaining representative for employees who don’t belong to that union.

Enterprise agreements

Some key changes to enterprise agreements. Any clauses in agreements that permit employees to “opt out” are now prohibited. Also, the act now bans anyone from making an enterprise agreement with just one employee.

Unfair dismissal

These cover the most important changes for small business. The big one: the time limit for lodging unfair dismissal applications has now been extended to 21 days.

Though frustrating for businesses, there’s some relief. The act now reduces the time limit for lodging a general protections claim to just 21 days. So the time limit for both these cases is now in sync.

Also, Fair Work Australia now has the power to dismiss applications where the parties have concluded a settlement agreement, or when an applicant fails to attend a proceeding or they fail to comply with directions or orders surrounding the application. That’s good news for business owners.

Costs orders

Fair Work Australia now has the power to make costs orders against a party that has unreasonably failed to discontinue a proceeding, or that has unreasonably failed to agree to terms of settlement that could have led to the application being discontinued; or, whether it’s through an “unreasonable act or omission”, has led the other party to incur costs.

Fair Work name change

Nothing much here: Fair Work Australia will have its name changed to something a little more descriptive of its function, although still containing the words “Fair Work”.

President, general manager

This change has industrial relations experts a little flustered. The president, or any deputy president, will now have the ability to stay the operation of a decision under appeal or review, whether or not the president or deputy is a member of the bench hearing the appeal.

There’s also been a change to allow the acting commissioner to appoint acting deputy presidents. Whether or not this has ramifications in practice will no doubt be revealed in time.

 

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