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The print industry employers’ group, Visual Media Association, does not believe the new workplace laws will add anything to print productivity, and has labelled them as messy and confusing.

Experience: Charles Watson, TRMC
New laws messy and confusing: Charles Watson, VMA

Charles Watson, GM – IR, policy and governance at VMA, said the latest amendments to multi-employer bargaining “further muddies an already unwelcome and complex process”, and said the new law on intractable bargaining could result in parties “not bargaining in good faith”.

Watson tagged the new right to disconnect law as “unnecessary”, and said he would be “surprised” if union officials had a genuine claim for immediate entry to a print business, another of the new laws.

VMA joins a host of business groups who see the Closing the Loopholes legislation more as closing the flexibility they say is necessary for Australia’s high wage economy to compete in the global marketplace.

Watson said, “Over the last twelve months the federal government has attempted to legislate broadly across workplace relations laws. Given the initial attempts resulted in splitting the original bill in two, the result is somewhat messy and confusing.

“Some of these amendments are minor, whereas others have more significance and create further administrative burdens for workplaces in our industry. We do not see how many of the amendments from both the No 1 and No 2 Closing the Loopholes Bills truly meet the objectives of the Fair Work Act. We do not support further legislative amendments that increase the complexity of these issues, and particularly for smaller businesses.”

The latest workplace laws are the third tranche since the Albanese government assumed power. Business groups are furious with their implications and what they say is the lack of engagement form the government, which they feel is only taking the unions’ input. The Productivity Commission for instance has not been consulted by the government on the new laws.

On multi-employer bargaining Watson said, “This concept was from the initial ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay’ tranche of amendments last year. The amendments via the current No.2 Bill that provide a pathway for an employer and their employees that were ensnared by a multi-employer agreement move to a single-enterprise agreement further muddies an already unwelcome and complex process.”

Regarding intractable bargaining to arbitration he said, “Effectively these amendments will grant the Fair Work Commission the power to arbitrate appropriate enterprise agreement terms on what are deemed intractable bargaining dispute issues, whereby the outcomes cannot be less favourable to the employees than corresponding terms in existing enterprise agreements. This could result in negotiating parties not bargaining in good faith.”

On the right of staff to disconnect after paid hours he said, “This ‘right to disconnect’ amendment was tacked onto the Bill as part of 11th hour negotiations with cross-benchers, and with little opportunity to deep dive into the proposal. Given the related legislative rights and requirements already in place across employment and health and safety law, we can’t help but think this was considered a last-minute good idea that attempted to replicate labour laws in place in Europe and North America. Overall, we don’t believe this amendment was necessary.”

“Given the existing employment types and structures within our industry these amendments do not appear to affect an employer’s ability to contact employees over their availability for a shift or in cases of emergency, or otherwise where the inherent requirements or nature of the job requires an employee to be on call or contactable outside core hours. It would be rare for a member to be contacting a production employee outside of work hours without good reason. Further, administration, sales and management employees are likely to have a reasonable additional hours requirement contained within their contract of employment and factored into their overall remuneration.”

Part of the new laws included the means for casuals to have easier conversion to permanent staff. Watson said, “This new pathway will be employee-driven, meaning that it will be the employee’s responsibility to initiate the conversion process. Importantly, under the new process, employers would be unable to rely on “reasonable business grounds” to refuse an employee request for casual conversion. Rather, an employer can only rely on the employee still meeting the new definition of casual employee and that accepting the conversion notification would be impracticable because substantial changes to the employee’s terms and conditions would be reasonably necessary.”

One of the more contentious amendments is the immediate right of entry for union officials, at present they have to wait 24 hours if they can show the Fair Work Commision they have reasonable grounds to enter a business. Now that wait time is gone. Watson said, “We will need to see how the commission approaches the genuineness of such waiver applications. Given our industry has a strong record for appropriately paying employees, it would be surprising if a union official has a genuine basis for making such an application in our industry.”


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