Multi enterprise bargaining, pay equity and job security in focus - Unpacking the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Multi enterprise bargaining, pay equity and job security in focus – Unpacking the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill

Multi enterprise bargaining, pay equity and job security in focus – Unpacking the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill

by Jason Roberts

November 01, 2022

Last week the Federal Government introduced new Industrial Relations legislation to Parliament with the aim of resetting important aspects of how Australia’s employers, employees, unions and Governments interact across a number of important workplace related areas. 


The Bill, known as the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022, is part of a broader effort by the Government to promote job security, close the gender pay gap and create conditions for wage growth to occur. 


The Bill has attracted a significant amount of attention from stakeholders inside and outside of the early learning childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. 


This article aims to unpack the key aspects of the Bill that are most relevant to the ECEC sector and in so doing enable readers to better understand how the Bill may impact them going forward, should it be passed. 


Readers should consider their own personal circumstances and seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to learning from this piece, which is generalised in nature, and should not be considered as specific industrial relations advice. 


What is the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill?


The Bill is a new piece of legislation currently sitting before parliament that aims to reset the Industrial Relations landscape of Australia by introducing laws that in the Government’s view will promote job security, close the gender pay gap and create conditions for wage growth to more easily occur.


Why is it important to the ECEC sector?


The Bill is of particular importance to the ECEC sector because the reforms have been designed with the care based sectors such as, aged care, community care and disability care in mind, where wages have historically been lower and workforces female dominated. 


What are the key areas of focus of the Bill? 


The Bill’s key areas of focus can be subdivided into three main areas namely:


  1. Reforms designed to support improvements in pay and conditions
  2. Reforms designed to improve pay equity
  3. Reforms designed to improve job security


Each area contains multiple individual measures that when taken together would support meaningful change in the key areas mentioned above. 


Are there any specific parts of the Bill that are particularly relevant to ECEC?


Yes, there are. 


Within the reforms designed to support improvements in pay and conditions section there are a set of measures that significantly change how employers, employees and unions interact to negotiate and finalise enterprise agreements that determine pay and conditions for the workforce. 


Additionally, within the reforms designed to improve pay equity, new measures have been introduced that will see gender equity as a central goal of workplace laws embedded and a clear expectation has been set that the Fair Work Commission must take into account the need to achieve gender equity when performing all its functions.


Why are these changes so important for the ECEC space?


The changes may impact both employers and employees quite differently and in so doing may create significant uncertainty about their implementation. 


For example, under the reforms designed to support improvements in pay and conditions section a range of changes to how enterprise agreements (agreements that govern the relationship between an employer, employees and employee organisations such as unions) are governed that includes how pay and conditions are negotiated have been included.  


Under the new laws a greater emphasis is being placed on multi enterprise bargaining which enables two or more employers to bargain together with employees and employee representatives at the same time with materially increased scope for employee representatives to initiate bargaining with employers and in turn compel them to participate, even if they, and their employees, do not want to. 


Another example is that under the reforms designed to improve pay equity employee representatives have greater scope to present pay equalisation claims and applications to boost Award level wages to a new benchmark to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), and increased scope for the FWC commission to evaluate claims through a gender equity perspective. 


Are we likely to see pay and conditions boosted in the ECEC sector? 


Although it is too early to conclude with certainty the impact of the measures, it is possible to highlight some broad consequences that are likely to take place. 


Firstly, it is highly likely that the long standing issue of low pay in the ECEC sector will see some resolution in the next six to eighteen months. The new Bill is likely to precipitate a round of enterprise agreement bargaining not seen for a generation which will in turn likely see an improvement in pay and conditions for the ECEC workforce. 


Secondly, it is also possible, though less likely, that a new wave of equal remuneration applications are made to the FWC that see base Award levels reset higher for the ECEC workforce. 


If wages are to go up is there any indication about who will pay for them?


Not as yet.


There is broad consensus across ECEC that wages are too low. The lack of professional recognition, underwritten by low wages, has been a long standing issue in the sector that has undoubtedly contributed to the worst workforce crisis in recent memory. 


This Bill has been designed to address these issues and is likely to succeed but it is unclear how the increase in wages will be funded without the additional costs being passed on to families in the form of higher fees. 


That being said, new measures within one of the multi-employer bargaining streams in the Bill give special power to the FWC to direct a third party “who exercises significant control over the terms and conditions of employees” to participate. 


This means that Government Agencies, in this case those responsible for disbursing the Child Care Subsidy in the ECEC context can be called upon to participate in the negotiation processes. 


Does that mean the Government will pay for any increases agreed upon?


No, it does not. 


As the Bill currently stands Government can be compelled to join the negotiations but under its current form the Bill does not contemplate payment mechanisms to fund the increases which means that the additional costs will be borne by employers. 


Are there any other important measures in the Bill worth mentioning?


Yes, there are a number of new measures in the pay equity section that are designed to create fairer and more transparent workplaces. 


These include:


  • Measures to better accommodate flexible work arrangement requests
  • Measures to outlaw pay secrecy clauses
  • Measures to expand sexual harrassment provisions 
  • Measures to expand anti discrimination protection 


What is the timeline for the Bill’s implementation?


Having been presented to Parliament last week, the Bill will now undergo a three week inquiry process before being presented and then voted on. 


Should this timeline be met then the new laws will likely be in effect by the beginning of 2023. 


To access a copy of the Bill in full please see here

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