The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 is expected to pass the Parliament this week after the Government negotiated concessions.

Employers and advocacy groups sought to split the Bill so that the more controversial multi-employer bargaining elements could be delayed until 2023 allowing more time for business understand the consequences and argue for changes.

Aspects of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill such as sexual harassment and gender equity were generally welcomed by business and industry alike and formed the basis of the move to split the Bill in to two parts. This would have allowed the less controversial aspects of the Bill to pass this year and allow more time for employers to understand the potential ramifications the other aspects of the Bill would have on their business.

Following negotiations between the Government and Senator David Pocock over the weekend it is expected that the Bill will pass the Senate later this week with some minor concessions. There is still a considerable degree of angst for business and industry due to lack of detail and the rigour around the modelling of consequences due to the proposed introduction of mechanisms such as multi-employer bargaining.

Multi-employer bargaining will enable employees from different companies in the same sector to join forces to bargain for better pay and conditions. Negotiated concessions to the multi-employer bargaining component include lifting the threshold of small business from 15 employees to 20, and businesses with less than 50 employees exempt from bargaining if unions are unable to prove common interest. The details around multi-employer bargaining such a defining “common interest” are still not clearly understood.

Other concessions negotiated by Senator David Pocock include giving the minister power to designate which occupations are able to participate in the low-paid bargaining stream. It is unclear what occupations may be included although cleaning and aged-care have been mooted as examples. It is unknown whether horticulture could be implicated in these considerations. However, as recently as Monday 28 November, Minister Burke referred to hourly rates within horticulture as some of the “worst examples” of people being underpaid in Australia. (See House of Representatives_2022_11_28.pdf;fileType=application/pdf ( Minister Burke’s reference to low horticultural wages also highlights the need for a National Labour Hire Licensing Scheme to ensure that exploitation of workers in the industry does not occur.

Whilst it is unlikely that there will be any further substantial changes before the Bill passes through the Senate later this week, minor changes may still occur as business and industry will continue to advocate.

The economic and industrial ramifications of the Bill on the horticultural sector will only be understood when the supporting regulations are tabled.

For more information, contact AUSEG on 03 9882 0277.