Closing Loopholes: Important Repairs to IR Laws

  • 5 February 2024

On the final sitting day of Federal Parliament for 2023, the government’s amended Closing Loopholes bill was passed with the support of Greens and key independents.  The amended laws include new rules to outlaw wage theft as a criminal offence, reforms to better protect some workers’ redundancy entitlements and changes to enhance work health and safety.

Labour hire workers can now no longer be paid less than employees doing the same job in their workplaces as a result of the industrial reforms passed.

This labour hire reform targets gaps in laws that have allowed some large and profitable corporations, including BHP and Qantas, to use labour hire to engage workers on rates that undercut those agreed in enterprise agreements.
A Senate Inquiry heard evidence that, as a result of employers using labour hire this way, workers were being paid up to tens of thousands of dollars less than employees doing the same work in the same workplace.

Discussions about the application of this provision to State Government's as employers are continuing.

Industrial manslaughter will now be a criminal offence, protections for workers experiencing family and domestic violence will be strengthened, and first responders/emergency workers with PTSD will have improved access to support.

Making superannuation theft a crime is also a welcome outcome of the government’s negotiations with the Greens.

There can be little doubt of the need to act on intentional non-payment of superannuation, with the Australian Taxation Office recently reporting that Australian workers are owed more than $2 billion in unpaid superannuation.

Superannuation theft not only affects workers’ retirement incomes but can see death and disability insurances cancelled.

The government has also agreed to consider an amendment to provide workers with a right to disconnect from work outside work hours.

With a Senate Inquiry into the whole bill still to report it was a welcome surprise to many that some reforms were legislated, especially the same-job, same-pay labour hire reforms that had been strongly contested by employers as other parts of the Closing Loopholes bill were set aside to be considered by Parliament in February.

Other important reforms to close loopholes in employment laws and to stop exploitation of workers and avoidance of standards will not be voted on in Parliament until this year.

The parts of the bill set aside until early this year include minimum standards for digital platform and road transport workers and changes that make it easier for casual employees who want to become permanent.

Despite the protestations of some employer groups there is not much that can be called radical in the Closing Loopholes reform package.

For the most part, the reforms passed last year and the ones still on the table are exactly what the government says they are – improvements to plug gaps and close loopholes that have allowed some workers to miss out on basic protections, standards and benefits that most other workers enjoy, and most employers are happy to provide.

Dr Fiona Macdonald is policy director, Industrial and Social, Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute