Employer Action Code: Monitor
More changes are coming to Australian workplace legislation, including a new criminal offense for wage theft, a new pathway for casual employees to become permanent, and increases to various penalties under the Work Health and Safety Act. The Fair Work Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 was introduced to Parliament on September 4, 2023. If passed, it will make a number of significant changes to Australian workplace relations law.
Following are key elements of the proposal:
- A new criminal offense for wage theft would apply to intentional conduct. In summary, the offense would apply when an employer engages in intentional conduct that results in underpaying its employees. Proposed penalties include up to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or fines of up to $1,565,000 for individuals or $7,825,000 for a body corporate. Maximum civil penalties for contraventions of wage-exploitation-related provisions would also increase fivefold. The proposed reforms would also strengthen union rights to enter workplaces to investigate suspected wage underpayments. Wage theft is already a criminal offense in two jurisdictions in Australia, under state-based legislation.
- In changes described as intended to improve job security, the proposals offer a new definition of “casual employee” and a new pathway for casual employees to convert to permanent employment after six months (12 months for small businesses) if the employee wishes and is in fact working like a permanent employee.
- Under changes to labor hire arrangements, host employers, employees and their representative organizations would be able to apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order that would ensure that labor hire providers would generally be required to pay their employees no less than what they would be entitled to be paid under the host employer’s enterprise or other agreement if they were directly employed by the host employer.
- Among a raft of other changes, a new protected attribute would be inserted in the Fair Work Act to improve workplace protections against discrimination for employees who have been, or continue to be, subjected to family and domestic violence. Changes would also be made to the Work Health and Safety Act, including a new offense of industrial manslaughter and increases in all penalties under that act by at least 30.03%.
The earliest the bill would become law is 2024, as it has been referred to a Senate committee for report by February 1, 2024.
Compliance and enforcement actions, including severe penalties, have been brought against businesses of all sizes, for failing to conduct due diligence and implement appropriate governance to get pay right. Employers should familiarize themselves with the proposed changes in the bill and monitor its progress. Once the bill becomes law, the commencement dates of the various changes vary, but employers should ensure they are ready to comply when required.
Payroll compliance is not easy, and companies seeking to ensure they are paying their employees in Australia the right amounts (including calculation and remittance of superannuation guarantee contributions) can ask us about our solution, Pay Comply, which combines industrial relations and data analytics expertise to assess and mitigate risks associated with payroll compliance.