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Workplace relations became a mainstream issue in 2019. Is your business ready for 2020?

For the first time in a long time, workplace relations became a headline issue. High profile underpayments, industrial manslaughter, and changes to modern awards have put these important issues on the national agenda.

Underpayment of wages and the wage theft movement

In July 2019, it was revealed that George Calombaris’ Made Group had underpaid over 500 employees nearly $8 million between 2011 and 2017.  This was one of several underpayment scandals involving high profile hospitality businesses.

A few months later, Woolworths admitted underpaying thousands of workers to the tune of $300 million dollars, in what is considered to be the most significant underpayment on record in Australia.

Both Woolworths and the Made Group blamed the complexity of the relevant modern award which covered their workers for the underpayments.

These scandals fueled the union driven “wage theft” movement, which will likely lead to legislative change to further protect employees as well as a potential overhaul of the modern award system.

Award covered employees – changes to annualised salaries

As part of the four yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission will change the rules around payment of annual salaries to award covered employees.  Commencing in March this year, employers must comply with record keeping, notification and substantial reconciliation obligations in respect of their award covered salaried employees.

Employees covered by over 20 different modern awards will be affected by the change. Contact us to see how this change affects you.

Industrial Manslaughter and harmonised occupational safety and health (OSH) laws

Harmonised OSH laws have been on the national agenda since 2008 and the WA agenda since 2017. In November 2019 WA’s version of the harmonised OSH law was tabled in parliament.

The new Bill will introduce:

  • an offence of industrial manslaughter with penalties up to 20 years imprisonment or $10 million for causing a workplace death; and
  • an expanded definition (beyond the traditional concept of “employer”) of those parties deemed to have a duty of care to ensure safety

With these important changes, and the increased focus on workplace relations issues generally, there has never been a more important time to ensure your business is compliant.

If you need assistance, you can contact Pragma’s specialist employment lawyers here for advice.

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