2020: The year of Covid, Casuals and IR Reform?

On 26 May 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced plans which could potentially define the future of work for millions of Australians. In a move likely to sit very uncomfortably with the labour party, the current government intends to work with unions and business groups (including both large and small business), to explore industrial relations reform: creating a simpler industrial relations system that is more fit for purpose. IR is back!

With the complex Fair Work Act 2009 introduced over a decade ago, it has been a long time since any government has aimed for major industrial relations reform. Recently however there have been some events which have contributed to bringing Industrial Relations back into the spotlight.

Firstly, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of flexibility within modern awards for both the employer and the employee. So much so, that emergency legislation was passed at a rapid pace when coronavirus hit.

Secondly, with 2018’s Workpac v Skene and last week’s Workpac v Rossato decisions on casual employment, it has become even clearer that the Fair Work Act 2009’s failure to define casual employment is now critically problematic.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will chair five working groups, each with a different focus. The topics include:

  • Modern awards;
  • Enterprise agreements;
  • Compliance and enforcement;
  • Casuals and fixed-term employees; and
  • Unions

Whether or not unions, business groups and the government can strike the right balance is not yet clear, but all parties have agreed to at least initial discussions. During the Fair Work era, we have seen wage growth move to record lows and fewer enterprise agreements being made – which have both suited business. However, unions will be looking to reverse some of this trend, therefore it will be interesting to see if an early balance can be struck within the working groups, or if the parties are just too far apart on the main issues.

Nevertheless, as lovers of all things IR, Industryus HR will keep our readers up to date with any changes (excitedly!).

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