Industrial relations update

While industrial relations can be a dry subject and many employers nod off just thinking about it, there are some important things happening at the moment.  Stay awake for just a few minutes and check this information out.

The Fair Work Amendment Bill

Changes are before Federal Parliament at the moment that may affect horticulture employers particularly for casual employment, awards, ‘zombie’ workplace agreements, and compliance/enforcement.

They are contained in the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020.

Key proposals

Casual employment

The Bill proposes three new approaches:

  • A new definition of a casual employee,
  • A consistent approach to converting casual jobs – this already exists in the Horticulture Award (clause 11.5),
  • To stop double dipping – a provision allowing employers who have mistakenly categorised an employee as casual to ‘offset’ permanent entitlements by the sum of any casual loading already paid. This will extend to both prospective and retrospective claims.


It also proposes ‘additional hours’ agreements in a limited number of awards which will enable a business to increase part-time hours without paying overtime rates.  It will also allow changes to an employee’s location or duties.

The intention is also to provide a simplified process, quicker timeframes, and better tools for making and approving workplace agreements. The ‘Better Off Overall Test’ (BOOT) will be retained but provide a more practical approach to avoid technicalities or hypothetical scenarios.

Zombie’ workplace agreements to terminate in 2022

The Bill also aims to terminate so-called ‘zombie agreements’ by 1 July 2022 if they haven’t already been replaced or terminated.  Zombie agreements include a range of employment arrangements made under previous legislation.

Employers and employees covered by agreements that terminate on 1 July 2022 may transition to the current framework by making new enterprise agreements before that date. If a replacement enterprise agreement is not in place by 1 July 2022 the modern Award will apply.

Compliance and enforcement

An important component of the Bill is the introduction of new Federal offences for deliberate underpayment of employees. This includes jail of up to 4 years, increased fines of up to $1.1 million for individuals and $5.5 million for companies.

A larger role and increased funding for the Fair Work Ombudsman is also proposed as a means to educate and support business by providing improved levels of information and advice.

What’s next?

The Bill will be debated throughout 2021 and employers are encouraged to follow this issue. Employers who are operating under “zombie” agreements should seek advice about their best next step.

NOTE:  All these changes have not yet been finalised or passed by Parliament.

Although this is Federal legislation the Victorian Chamber of Industry and Commerce has a good summary on their website.