The Changing Industrial Relations Landscape

20 June 2024

Andrew Cameron, Workplace Relations Director, Primary Employers Tasmania.

The Australian Government passed new workplace laws in December, 2023 but the actual changes are staggered for various dates through 2024 and into 2025. 

Immediate changes related to paid family and domestic violence and small business redundancy exemptions.

From 1 July, 2024 new provisions will be in the awards covering delegates’ rights, that is, protections for union delegates in the workplace. 

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A new definition of casual employees will commence on 26 August, 2024 which will have a major impact on how farms employ staff. Under this definition, an employee is only a casual if:

  • there isn’t a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work, taking into account several factors, including the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the employment relationship
  • they're entitled to receive a casual loading or specific casual pay rate.

Employees who start as a casual, will stay casual until their employment status changes either through:

  • a conversion process or Fair Work Commission order, or
  • accepting an alternative employment offer and starting work on that basis.

An employee who is a casual at the time the legislation changes will remain as a casual.

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Also from 26 August, 2024 the ‘right to disconnect’ will apply to large businesses, that is, those businesses with 15 or more employees.  This will not apply to small businesses until 26 August, 2025.

The important thing to note is that the legislation doesn’t prevent an employer from contacting an employee, it just gives the employee the right to ignore the contact. However, there is a provision for the contract to be built into employment agreements and business policies. What should be taken into account is whether the contact is necessary or just convenient. 

In introducing changes to employment agreements or contracts consultation with staff will ensure that only the necessary reasons for contact outside usual working hours will be made, and the employee will have knowledge as to the type of contact that can be made.

From 1 January, 2025 wage theft provisions will be introduced. These will involve harsh criminal penalties for deliberate and wilful underpayment of wages and entitlements. It should be noted that a Voluntary Small Business Wage Compliance Code is being developed to protect small businesses.