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Australia Introduces Multi-Employer Bargaining for Certain Sectors

The Fair Work Amendment 2022 (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) received ascent on December 6, with a range of changes to be implemented between now and the June 2023.   Included are changes to fixed term contracts, pay secrecy clauses, gender pay equity, discrimination and harassment protections and access to flexible work arrangements. 

The most significant change for employers is the introduction of multi-employer bargaining in certain sectors.  Three streams of multi-employer bargaining have been introduced:

  1. The Cooperative Workplaces Bargaining Stream – aims to help smaller businesses reach agreements with their employees by bringing like employers together.  As least some of the employees must be represented by a registered employee organisation (eg a Union), and agreements must be approved by a majority vote of employees at each employer.  There is no scope for protected industrial action – conciliation and arbitration occur through the Fair Work Commission.

  2. Supported Bargaining Stream – formerly the ‘low paid bargaining stream’, this amendment will make it much easier for a sector to bargain together. The Fair Work Commission will be required to authorise bargaining if satisfied that the relevant employers and employees share prevailing pay and conditions, have clearly identifiable common interests, and the number of bargaining representatives is manageable.  In addition, the Minister can declare a particular industry, occupation, or sector eligible for this stream.  At least some of the employees must be represented by a registered employee organisation, and protected industrial action IS allowed (ie strike action).

  3. Single Interest Bargaining Stream – Franchisees and employers with certain common interests can bargain together for a single interest enterprise agreement.  Several previous restrictions have been removed to allow employers with ‘reasonably comparable’ interests to bargain together.  Protected industrial action IS available with some additional restrictions, and small businesses (less than 20 employees) cannot be forced into this bargaining stream. 

Outlook for Employers:  The amendments passed through parliament with several changes, particularly the protection of small businesses.  However, the Business Council of Australia has expressed concern that the changes will not lead to the desired wage growth.  Instead, they will add even greater complexity to the industrial relations environment, and potentially push business competitors into joint bargaining arrangements and anti-competitive wage practices.

Published on: January 9, 2023

Authors: Michelle Swinden

Topics: China, Japan & Asia-Pacific

Michelle Swinden

Executive Director, Asia-Pacific, HR Policy Global

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