AUSTRALIA: Annual Update – Expected Labour Law Changes in 2017 (Federal only)

Industrial Relations

New body to oversee and regulate employer organisations and unions.
On November 2016, Federal Government passed a bill establishing a Registered Organisations Commission to regulate unions and employer organisations. The new ROC will have investigations and information gathering powers to monitor and regulate registered organisations. The bill also amends existing legislation dealing with the requirement of officers to disclose material personal interests. The bill changes grounds for disqualification and ineligibility for office. It increases financial accounting and disclosure obligations for registered organisations and officers. It increases civil penalties and introduces criminal offences for serious breaches of officers’ duties and new offences concerning conduct of investigations.

Action required:

1. Officers of registered organisations will need to become familiar with the new provisions; and
2. Closer attention will be required to be given to financial accounting obligations.

Whistle-blowing protection

The same Registered Organisations bill has broadened whistle-blowing protection for relevant organisations, including extending the definition to whistle-blower to include former employee and officers; permitting anonymous reporting and placing the ‘no-reprisal’ burden of proof on the employer.

It is possible that similar reforms will soon be applied to the whole private sector.

Action required: In advance of these potential forms employers should review their approach to whistle-blowing to include establishing hotlines, having a process for anonymous reporting, conducting employee and officer training and reviewing codes of conduct.

Building industry

Proposed new body to oversee industrial relations in the building and construction industry:  The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 is currently before Federal Parliament and is expected to pass in the next Parliamentary session, if not the current one.

The bill re-establishes the Australian Building and Construction Commission which will replace the current office of the Fair Work Building Inspectorate.

The bill includes building industry specific provisions relating to unlawful industrial action and coercion and imposes higher penalties.

The Minister is permitted to issue a Building Code, being a code of practice which building industry participants and the Commonwealth must comply with regarding building work.

The bill seeks to prohibit unlawful industrial action or an unlawful picket in relation to building work.

Action required:

1. Building industry employers and participants will need to become familiar with any newly issued Code of Practice; and
2. Closer attention will be required to be given to the specific provisions dealing with unlawful industrial action and coercion.