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A year in review for employment relations – a triumph or a tribulation?

By Ryan Price | |5 minute read

It’s been a behemoth of a year for employment relations in Australia. We’ve seen bill after bill be introduced, reprioritised and deprioritised.

While no one can argue that there have been some beneficial updates for employees, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for our employers who seem to get their heads around one change, only for it to be superseded by another.

This year’s Fair Work Commission Annual Report was a monster – enough to make a good dent in the coffee table. Honestly, it can be a little hard to find the wins for employers in this year’s changes and updates. These have mostly come in the form of tightening control on certain aspects of the process of enterprise bargaining and making enterprise agreements.


So, what can small businesses take away?

1. New Labor government – Firstly, it must be addressed that this report covers 2022–2023 – in which time we saw a new government come into power. Any changing of the guard brings many flow-on impacts for our small-business economy. As was the case this year. With the non-stop flurry of significant employment relations changes, there have been wide-reaching impacts on businesses across the country. While the changes were expected, the pace of change has been blisteringly fast and difficult for small businesses to keep up with.

Takeaway: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an optimally functioning employment relations system. A government changeover can be slow with teething issues as they push ahead with their reform agenda. Over the next 12 months, we can expect to see the changes slow slightly and taper off as we move closer to the next federal election. This will hopefully give us all some time to catch our breath.

2. Statutory document volume – A trend I’ve noticed over the past few years of these annual reports is that the sheer number of statutory documents published continues to increase with each passing year. Over the past two years alone, there has been about a 10 per cent increase. These documents include orders, decisions, statements and determinations.

Takeaway: There is more coming out of the Fair Work Commission than ever before – the commission is keeping pace, moving in lockstep with the federal government, causing an information overload if you don’t know where to look or what is important.

3. Entitlement complexity – It’s clear that entitlements are only getting more complex – with the changes to unpaid parental leave and prohibitions on pay secrecy standing as chief examples. Despite the changes being broadly positive and well meaning, things are tough for businesses and business owners right now, so anything that makes managing your employees and your relationships with them trickier or introduces additional admin is a tough hit to take.

Takeaway: Entitlements updates continue to create more admin for employers. Allocate ample time to get familiar with the updates to avoid being liable for any errors made, and regularly review your documents and processes to ensure you are on top of it all. If you don’t have the time to spare, look at outsourcing this aspect of your business to ensure you’re compliant.

4. Awards update – What is important to understand is that the Fair Work Commission has also had to set about updating awards, just like employers updating their documents, to reflect many of the legislative changes coming out of the Australian Parliament and High Court cases – which means more paperwork.

Takeaway: If you don’t carefully monitor what is coming out of the Parliament and the commission, you can get caught unawares or worse – double up or chase your tail. Being aware of what is ahead and planning is the best way to be efficient in rolling out changes in your business or workplace and minimise the disruption caused by updates.

Ryan Price is head of content and training at Employsure.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.