Coalition Eyes Permanent Part Time Workers

December 7, 2020 Updated: December 7, 2020

Permanent part-time employees could soon be able to negotiate extra hours at their usual rate of pay.

The federal government will put forward their proposed overhaul this week for the industrial relations system which aims to reform five areas of the current legislation.

One area will be addressing issues with clarity and certainty for casual and fixed-term employees and their employers in the retail and hospitality industry.

The government believes many workers in these two industries want to pick up more hours, but businesses are often reluctant because they would have to pay staff at higher rates.

The proposal will allow employers and employees to agree for more work hours without overtime penalties.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter says uncertainty is a significant barrier for business confidence to employ people in casual positions.

“The reforms will give business the confidence and certainty they need to hire permanent employees rather than focusing on traditionally more flexible forms of employment,” Porter told AAP.

“For employees, it means a higher chance of securing permanent employment, with a guaranteed minimum number of hours, paid leave entitlements and, crucially, more hours of work if they want them.”

The legislation will also introduce a criminal offence of wage theft which could see individual offenders face up to four years in jail and $1.1 million in fines.

Meanwhile, companies found in the guilty could face penalties up to $5.5 million, but the new regulations will not apply to one-off underpayments, genuine mistakes or miscalculations.

The new criminal offence will only apply to employers who systematically underpay with the intention of dishonesty.

Additionally, wage theft offenders will automatically be disqualified from managing companies for five years.

Porter said the overwhelming majority of businesses do the right thing with most underpayments not deliberate.

“But there is a small minority of unscrupulous operators who deliberately and systemically seek to underpay their staff,” he said

It will also help honest businesses that are against competitors who undercut their employees.

However, the Morrison government will face a battle with Labor and unions against the legislation over concerns for the casual employment section.

Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations Tony Burke said the plan to allow casuals more rights to convert to permanent would tip the balance in employers’ favour.

But Burke confirmed Labor would support another legislation allowing union demergers, which is aimed at breaking up the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.

“At the moment there is only a three-year window where a division of an amalgamated union can vote that it wants to leave again,” he told ABC radio today.

“We are open to there being some exceptional circumstances beyond that three-year period where members of a division might want to exercise that democratic right.”