On 13 August the Government introduced the Employment Standards Legislation Bill. In summary it:
- provides for stronger and more effective enforcement of employment standards such as the minimum wage and holidays entitlements; and
- extends parental leave and payments to more workers and increases the flexibility of the parental leave scheme;
- prohibits certain practices in employment relationships, particularly in relation to “zero hours” contracts.
For employers, better enforcement will remove the unfair competitive advantage gained by non-compliant employers. For employees, it ensures they receive the minimum terms they are legally entitled to. Key provisions include:
- significantly higher penalties for serious breaches of employment standards (such as minimum wage) available from the Employment Court:
- extending accountability to persons other than the employer who are knowingly and intentionally involved in breaches of employment standards:
- enhancing the powers of labour inspectors to request information from employers and share information with other regulatory agencies:
- an infringement notice regime for breaches of an employer’s obligations in relation to record keeping and individual employment agreements.
Enhanced parental leave
The Bill broadens the eligibility of the parental leave scheme. Key measures include:
- extending parental leave payments to non-standard workers (such as casual, seasonal, and employees with more than one employer) and those who have recently changed jobs;
- extending parental leave entitlements to a wider range of primary carers than biological or formal adoptive parents;
- extending unpaid leave to workers who have been with their employer for more than 6 months (but less than 12) as a standard 6 month leave period (inclusive of the 18 weeks’ paid leave period)
- providing for greater flexibility in how that unpaid leave is taken;
- enabling keeping-in-touch days so employees can work limited hours during their paid leave period if they choose.
“Zero hours” contracts and deductions“
Zero hours” contracts are where employees are required to be available for work, but the employer is not required to provide a minimum number of hours each week. The Bill will include a requirement that where the parties to an employment agreement commit to a set amount of hours, those agreed contracted hours are stated in the employment agreement.The Bill will also prohibit:
- employers from requiring employees to be available for work over the contracted hours unless employees are able to refuse any work offered or the agreement provides compensation for that availability;
- cancelling a shift without reasonable notice or compensation; and
- imposing unreasonable restrictions on secondary employment.
- Unreasonable wage deductions would also be prohibited under the Bill. For example, deductions from an employee’s wages to compensate the employer for loss or damage caused by a third party over which the employee could not reasonably be expected to have control (such as a customer driving off without paying at a petrol station) will not be permitted.