First responders will have easier access to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compensation and contractors will receive the same pay as full-time employees in the same position within weeks, after the government agreed to cross lawsuits to divide his huge industrial relations bill.
Last month, the crossbench split Labour’s industrial relations changes, amid concerns the government was rushing through.
The Labor Party has now agreed to that change, in exchange for likely cross-party support for further changes next year.
The deal will include changes to equal pay for equal work starting next year.
Crossbenchers senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie last month criticized Labour’s plans for workplace changes amid concerns the government was trying to rush through parliament the changes.
At the time, MPs introduced their own bill which created a path for Labor to pass the uncontroversial elements of its IR proposal, including post-traumatic stress compensation.
The Senate passed the bill with the support of the Coalition, but the government has refused for weeks to pass it in the House of Representatives, insisting it wanted to continue with its original plan.
In a deal reached before the final day of the session, Labor agreed to split its plans in exchange for the bench backing its equal pay for equal work provisions, which have been controversial among business groups.
Here’s what’s changing and what’s not (for now).
Changes in salary and conditions
Starting next year, loopholes in labor contracting will be closed, in a move that will require contractors doing the same work as a company’s full-time employees to be offered the same pay and conditions .
The new laws will also ensure that employees do not lose their redundancy payments, regardless of the size of the company.
Under current laws, a small business is one that employs fewer than 15 people. Some small businesses do not have to offer severance pay when they lay off an employee.
Tony Burke says the changes are the most that could be achieved this year.
Support for workers
The new laws will make it easier for first responders to obtain workers’ compensation for PSTD starting January 1.
Recipients will be members of the Australian Border Force and Australian Federal Police, ambulance officers, paramedics, emergency services communications operators and firefighters.
The laws also seek to offer protection in the workplace for people experiencing family and domestic violence.
The agreement between the unions will also expand the mandate of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to cover silica and silicosis, in a bid to better protect workers who use the materials.
David Pocock says changes are needed for gig workers.
Making wage theft a crime
Employers caught deliberately underpaying their workers could face jail time under new laws proposed by the federal government.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has repeatedly said it was a criminal offense for an employee to steal money from the till, but not for an employer to withhold money from an employee’s salary.
The proposed changes would provide a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines of up to $7.8 million, or three times the amount underpaid if that amount exceeds the maximum fine.
The government insists that no criminal sanctions would be applied for “honest mistakes.”
Industrial homicide will also be classified as a crime.
Minimum wages could be introduced for self-employed workers using digital platforms.
What won’t change…yet
Three elements of the Labor Party’s original industrial relations changes remain in limbo, at least until the new year.
They include minimum standards for employed workers, minimum standards for truck drivers, and changes to the definition of informal employment to provide a path to permanence.
These provisions, which have the support of the union movement, have faced a fierce reaction from business groups.
A Senate committee is investigating those changes and will report next year.
The Greens and unions want to give employees greater rights to disconnect from work and hope that will be considered next year.
Senators Pocock and Lambie have pledged to consider the remaining parts of the legislation “in good faith early in the new year”.
“It’s clear that things like minimum standards for employees are necessary, but we need to make sure the details of these big changes are right,” Senator Pocock said.
“Introducing changes that better support first responders with PTSD will be life-changing and I thank the government for working with all the banks to split the bill and get this done this year.”
Burke thanked senators for their discussions and insisted that compromise would be beneficial to workers.