You may have heard about recent changes to the Fair Work Act 2009. Here’s an overview of three changes that could impact you, your employees and your business operations.

The Australian Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has announced updates to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022. This was formerly known as the Fair Work Act 2009 (The Act).

The changes will come into effect on 6 June 2023 or an earlier date which could be announced, in the case of the bargaining changes.

Certain aspects of workplace relations laws relating to bargaining, job security, gender equality, compliance and enforcement, and other conditions have changes.

If you employ staff, here are three of the key changes which could impact your small business, and details of where you can learn more. You can find a summary of all of the changes on the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations’ website.

1. Changes to the bargaining framework

Firstly, it’s important to know these terms, and how they relate to the Fair Work Act:

  • Enterprise agreement: This is a formal agreement relating to pay and conditions in a workplace, created by both employers and employees. In this case, an enterprise can mean any kind of business, activity, project or undertaking.
  • Bargaining: This is the process of creating an enterprise agreement. It can involve an employer, employees and bargaining representatives. There are clear rules about this process, including what can and can’t be included in an agreement and how it needs to be approved.

To help streamline the bargaining process in ways which could benefit both employees and employers, the bargaining framework has been changed. The amendments include changes to the way enterprise agreements are approved, including the Better-Off-Overall-Test. This aims to give the Fair Work Commission (the Commission) more ability to help bargaining parties overcome bargaining disputes and reach agreements. Learn more about bargaining and workplace relations.

2. Changes to single interest AND multi-enterprise bargaining

Amendments have been made to streamline both the single interest and multi-enterprise bargaining streams. This means:

  • In the single interest bargaining stream, some limitations for single interest employer agreements have been removed. This means small business employers (with less than 20 employees) can’t be forced to bargain but can voluntarily bargain in this stream.
  • What was known as the multi-enterprise bargaining stream has been renamed the Cooperative Workplaces Bargaining Stream. This stream is available for businesses of all sizes, but could be good news for small businesses in particular. Since most small businesses don’t have a dedicated human resources team, this change allows business to pool resources with other business to potentially benefit from cooperative bargaining.

In some more good news for small business owners, the Australian Government has committed $7.9 million over four years to expand the Commission’s capacity to help small businesses negotiate agreements with their employees.

3. Changes to job security and gender equality

Flexible working arrangements are an important aspect of job security and gender equality in every size of business, for example for parental leave.

The legislation changes in this area mean that employees are supported in their right to request flexible working arrangements. Whether these arrangements can be accommodated depends on the size and type of small business involved – but the new legislation gives the Commission more capacity to help negotiate these arrangements and resolve related disputes if they arise.

Find out more

Business legislation can be complex, but it’s worth investing time and effort to make sure you are meeting the requirements. It’s important to do the right thing by your employees, for their sake and the sake of your business.

For more information, visit the Secure Jobs, Better Pay website, download the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations small business fact sheet related to these changes or access free resources to help you manage this change from the Fair Work Commission.

You can also read our other information for small business employers:

Legal and risk
16 December 2022