2019 wrap up 10 years of Fair Work

By Calum Woods and Lindsay Carroll, NRA Legal

With the year almost over, it’s time to reflect on the lessons learned in 2019, and prepare for the start of a new decade. In January, we predicted that compliance would continue to be a major factor affecting retail businesses, however for reasons that require no explanation, this was somewhat of an underestimation.

In a surprise result, the Coalition held onto Government in the 2019 Federal Election, and the broad sweeping changes to the industrial relations landscape promised by Labor were not realised.

However notwithstanding this, there has been no shortage of challenges to the status quo:

  • personal/carer’s leave has been thrown into a tail spin by the Federal Court, with the matter now subject to an appeal before the High Court;
  • the most significant challenge on the freedom of religious expression has been brought by a sporting celebrity Israel Folau against his former employer Rugby Australia; and
  • customer violence representing one of the greatest risks to health and safety for retail businesses to prompt an industry-wide response.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the changes coming in 2020.


What changes are on the horizon?

Modern award review

In November, Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter announced that in 2020, the Morrison Government would review the current modern award system, a move which has since been backed by retailers.

It’s well settled that the modern award system in Australia is unnecessarily complex. Until the introduction of WorkChoices in 2006 (which itself was replaced by the Fair Work Act 2009 and the modern award system), wages and conditions of employment were predominately set by each State and Territory. The modern award system was developed to consolidate the existing State and Territory laws and combine them into a single reference instrument. The issue of course being that a number of features unique to a particular State or Territory were adopted into the modern awards, despite the historical context being lost.

The NRA has long supported the Fair Work Commission’s plain language redrafting of the modern awards, which has already disrupted long-held interpretations of some provisions. However, this process is notoriously slow, and is limited to working within the confines of the existing modern awards system.

The Federal Government’s review is the first step to overhauling the modern awards, and moving towards a system which is easier to understand for employers and employees alike.


Wages and penalty rates

Until the Federal Government’s review is complete, wages and penalty rates will continue to be set by the modern awards system. Serving as perhaps a perfect allegory for the problems with the existing system, many of these changes are now occurring at seemingly random intervals.

A summary of the key changes coming in 2020 to the General Retail Industry Award include the following:

  • From 1 March 2020, the Saturday penalty rate for casual employees will increase from 45%➜50%. This will be the final anticipated increase to the Saturday penalty rate. This increase is synchronised with an increase to the casual weekday evening penalty rate, from 35%➜40%, however this is only the first of two increases to the casual weekday evening penalty rate in 2020.
  • From 1 July 2020, the minimum wage rates in all modern awards will increase in line with the 2019–20 Annual Wage Review. The NRA was the only association for the retail and service industries to participate in all stages of last year’s review. Within the coming months, members of the NRA will be invited to contribute their views about any proposed increases. The start of the new financial year also sees the final reduction to Sunday penalty rates take effect. The Sunday penalty rate for full-time and part-time employees will be reduced for the last time from 65%➜50%. The Sunday casual penalty rate will remain unchanged at 75% (inclusive of casual loading).
  • From 1 October 2020, the second increase of the year to the casual weekday evening penalty rate will take effect, this time from 40%➜45%. The next and final increase to this penalty rate will occur from 1 March 2021.

As always, the NRA will continue to update its wage summaries as these increases draw closer.


Federal ‘Wage Theft’ Inquiry

Several inquiries into ‘wage theft’ have already been undertaken in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, and now the Federal Opposition has announced a similar inquiry to be conducted by the Senate.

As previously mentioned, the system has now largely been nationalised, so while the State-based inquiries have made numerous recommendations, they lacked the constitutional power to make any substantive changes.

The NRA is retail industry association to have participated in every ‘wage theft’ inquiry to date, and intends to do the same for the Federal inquiry. Members are invited to provide their feedback on the NRA’s position by contacting the workplace relations team.


Getting ready for the year ahead

As always, January is the perfect time to take care of any projects you have been putting off.

Whether it’s updating your contracts to make sure your part-time employees are been treated correctly, reviewing your rostering practices so that employees are not working excessive or unreasonable additional hours, or conducting a comprehensive pay and conditions audit of your salaried staff, the NRA has a wide range of services to assist at every stage.

If you are planning your team’s professional development in 2020, check out our upcoming events (including the popular ‘Rostering for compliance under the General Retail Industry Award 2010’) here.

For specialised advice on issues affecting your business, call 1800 RETAIL (738 245) to speak with one of our workplace relations advisors.