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Explaining the Closing Loopholes Bill for workers

December 14, 2023

On December 7, large parts of the Closing Loopholes bill passed Federal Parliament, which means some big changes in Australian workplaces. It’s important to understand how these laws will affect workers, so the WMWA is here to explain the biggest changes included in the Bill.

Labour Hire

Unions have campaigned for ‘Same Job Same Pay’ for years – and it has finally become law! The new law means that when an employer with an enterprise agreement engages workers through a labour hire firm, then unions or workers can apply to the Fair Work Commission to get an order to force the employer to pay labour hire workers the same rate of pay as listed in the enterprise agreement covering the workers directly employed at the site.

We know many employers, particularly in the mining and construction industries, use labour hire workers to undercut the pay and conditions of permanent employees on an EA. This used to mean that two workers with the same qualifications, same shift, and same duties, could be paid differently all because of the badge on their shirt.

This new law will close the loophole so employers must pay the same enterprise agreement rate of pay to both permanent and labour-hire employees, and will take effect on November 1, 2024.

Wage Theft

Finally, Australia has Federal laws to protect workers from wage theft and punish bosses who steal from their employees. Intentional underpayments of wages and superannuation will have heavy penalties — $7,825,000 for a corporation or three times the value of the underpayment and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years. This will take effect from 1 January 2025.

Delegates Rights

Delegates rights under the Fair Work Act 2009, modern awards, and enterprise agreements will include:

  • representing members’ industrial interests, including in disputes;
  • reasonable communications with members and prospective members in relation to their industrial interests;
  • reasonable access to the workplace and facilities;
  • paid time for related training (unless employed by a small business)

Employers who refuse to deal with delegates, make a false representation, or unreasonably hinder or obstruct a delegate exercising their rights will face civil penalties. This will take effect from the day the Bill receives Royal Assent

More WHS Protections

There will be a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorders were caused by the job for ‘first responders’ covered by Comcare (e.g. the Australian Federal Police and ACT Emergency Services Officers).

Importantly for the WMWA Silica Dust Kills campaign, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency will now cover silica, and rename itself as the Asbestos and Silica Safety and Eradication Agency, and a Silica National Strategic Plan will also be created.

The rules in relation to entry to workplaces to assist a health and safety representative under a provision of a State or Territory WHS law will be clarified.

All of these new provisions will take effect the moment the new laws receive Royal Assent.

Industrial Manslaughter

While QLD, VIC, the NT and the ACT have industrial manslaughter laws, there is no national law or regulation in place – but this is about to change.

From 1 July 2024, the Commonwealth Model WHS laws will include an offence of industrial manslaughter, applying to reckless or negligent conduct which causes the death of a worker.

Family and domestic violence (FDV)

Being subjected to FDV will become a protected attribute for the purpose of the FW Act anti-discrimination provisions.

Protected action ballot order (PABO) fix

Only those bargaining representatives who have made an application for a PABO will be required to attend the new compulsory conciliation conferences under s 448A of the FW Act.

Previously, confusing wording in the Act made it uncertain as to who would need to attend.


Small business redundancy exemption

Employees will be entitled to redundancy pay if they are made redundant in connection with bankruptcy or liquidation, and the employer only qualified as a ‘small business’ at the time because they had recently terminated other employees.

There are more changes to come for workers, with provisions towards casuals, the definition of employment, gig-economy work, and changes to intractable bargaining all set to be considered by the Senate in early 2024.

Many of these changes – particularly Same Job, Same Pay and wage theft laws – are the result of long, hard-fought union campaigns, and would not have been possible without the support of workers across Australia.

WMWA organisers and legal officers will work to ensure that employers comply with these new laws as soon as they take effect between now and January 2025. In the meantime, anyone with questions is encouraged to reach out to their delegate or organiser, or get in touch with the union for more details.

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