What you need to know about the new IR laws

On 20th March 2009 the parliament passed the Fair Work Bill 2008, now called the Fair Work Act 2009, which will replace the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (“Work Choices”).

The Act will be phased-in in two stages, being 1st July 09 and 1st Jan 2010.
The Fair Work Act will apply to all constitutional corporations (Generally speaking ‘Pty Ltd’s’) while non constitutional corporations will be covered by state systems.

The following is a summary of key changes:

Unfair Dismissal

  • An employee will be eligible to make a claim for unfair dismissal if they have completed the minimum employment period of 12 months.
  • The employee must make the claim within 14 days of the date the termination took effect.
  • Small business will be defined as 15 employees.  Until 2011 this will mean 15 equivalent full time employees.  After January 2011 the 15 will refer to headcount.

Unlawful Dismissal

  • An employer cannot dismiss an employee due to temporary absence from work due to illness or injury, membership of a union, seeking to be a job delegate, refusing to make a flexibility agreement because of maternity leave.

Agreement Making

  • A bargaining representative such as the union may apply to Fair Work Australia for a majority support determination stating that the majority of employees want to bargain.  If granted the employer must bargain in good faith.
  • Employers must bargain in good faith at all times.  This means attending and participating in meetings at reasonable times and various other requirements however the employer (or employees) are not required to make any concessions.
  • A bargaining representative may apply to fair Work Australia for a low paid bargaining authorization.  If this is granted then Fair Work Australia can provide assistance with bargaining or dealing with disputes.

Union Right of Entry

  • A permit holder (union official) may inspect work, process or objects, interview those who agree to be interviewed, inspect and copy documents and access non members records if the employee consents.

National employment standards (NES)

  • The ten national employment standards will apply from January 2010 and will apply to every employee regardless of whether they are under an award or agreement.

With the exception of the NES all other changes apply from July 2009.