Federal Secure Jobs, Better Pay Act – It’s not just about workplace bargaining! Many other changes rolling out this year … here’s an introduction!
Published on April 12, 2023 by Peter Punch
In early December 2022 the new Federal Labor Government managed to negotiate through the Commonwealth Parliament an omnibus Act incorporating a large number of changes to national workplace laws.
The new statute  received Royal Assent on 6 December 2022. Some of the changes the SJBP Act makes to our workplace laws started on the following day (7 December), but many are rolling out in batches on different dates this year, namely 6 March, 6 June and as late as 6 December 2023.
Looked at as a whole, the SJBP Act constitutes by far the most important and largest single set of changes to Australia’s workplace laws since the commencement of the principal Federal workplace statute .
However, it would be easy to think, based on the media coverage of the parliamentary debates leading up to 6 December, that the SJBP Act was really all about the Government’s proposed changes to workplace bargaining laws and whether they were fair to employers and/or gave too much influence to unions and/or would or would not work etc.
There is no doubt the changes to workplace bargaining laws in the SJBP Act appear to be significant, but only time will tell how significant they turn out to be in practice.
Meanwhile, all the noise over that subject served to almost totally drown out all the many other changes that the SJBP Act has made, or. will make to workplace laws for most employers and employees throughout Australia.
This article identifies these important non workplace bargaining changes, as a precursor to other articles soon to be published on our website about those changes.
The main changes – apart from those to workplace bargaining laws
The SJBP Act made many changes to Australia’s workplace laws, as its more than 250 pages of text amply demonstrates.
The various changes are a combination of major, modest and small changes, and range across a large number of topics, quite apart from the subject of workplace bargaining.
However, there are four categories of changes that have widespread effect across the Australian workforce either immediately or at various times across calendar 2023, and they are as follows:
- Provisions prohibiting pay secrecy;
- Additional protections for employees in the areas of discrimination and sexual harassment;
- Additional rights for employees seeking flexible work arrangements; and
- Placing limits on the use of “fixed term” or “maximum term” contracts.
Articles on each of these important subjects will be published on our website in the near future.
We hasten to add however that our current concentration on these four subjects does not mean to suggest that attention need not be given to all the other changes to workplace law contained in the SJBP Act, and indeed we intend to discuss some of these in subsequent articles. But the four subjects that we have identified here are the ones we believe have the most immediate and widespread impact on employers and employees throughout Australia (despite the apparent lack of controversy over these changes).
And of course, clients needing customised advice for their particular circumstances should contact one of our specialist employment lawyers.
And what else is there in the SJBP Act?
Apart from the four subjects introduced above in this article, and all the provisions relating to workplace bargaining, there is a formidable array of other changes to Australian workplace laws to be found in the SJBP Act. The following are the main ones of note:
- Abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Division and the establishment of a National Construction Industry Forum;
- Abolition of the Registered Organisations Commission (“ROC”) and the transfer of its functions to the office of the General Manager of FWC;
- The insertion of new objects into the FW Act to promote job security and gender equity;
- Additional provisions to promote gender equity, including in connection with equal remuneration principles and the establishment of expert panels to assist FWC in the area of pay equity, including for the care and community sector;
- Special measures to address and overcome discrimination on prohibited grounds;
- Provisions enhancing the existing Small Claims Processes in the FW Act; and
- Prohibition on employment advertisements with pay rates contravening the FW Act.
Articles on various of these subjects (for example, the abolition of the ROC and its consequences for unions) will be published in due course.
Final preliminary observations on the SJBP Act
As mentioned above, there is no doubt that the SJBP Act constitutes by far the most significant and voluminous set of changes to the FW Act since its commencement in July 2009. It is suggested that the above introductory commentary, and subsequent articles, disclose or will disclose these two things:
(i) The SJBP Act is just as much about job security and pay equity as it is about “getting wages moving”, and it might well be that in practice the SJBP Act will be more effective in those areas than in driving wage increases across the workforce; and
(ii) The SJBP very significantly increases and extends the role of FWC across a number of areas, not just in relation to workplace bargaining but also in relation to flexible work arrangements, sexual harassment disputes and driving gender equity/equal remuneration particularly in the care and community sector – so, while the now infamous “Work Choices” legislation of 2006 eradicated a great deal of the then Australian Industrial Relations Commission’s jurisdiction over workplace matters, the FW Act as amended by the SJBP Act goes some way towards restoring its successor, FWC, to an even more central role in Australian workplace relations than it has had over the last 20 years.
Further articles on important aspects of the SJBP Act will be published on the Website over the coming weeks and months, including in relation to the various subjects highlighted in this article, but also extending to other important elements of the legislation. One such article soon to appear, authored by our partner Janine Smith and our associate Wing Ho, deals with “agreement based transitional instruments” (referred to as “zombie agreements”).