male presentation
The HIA evaluates the new legislation as mixed. Image: Jeremy McGilvrey, Unsplash
  • HIA response generally supports conversion to part or full time employment from casual
  • Notes there has been a decline in enterprise agreements
  • Doesn't support some criminal offences for wage underpayment

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) – the only national industry association for the residential building industry – has responded to the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2020.

In particular, the HIA has responded to three specific areas in the Bill: a clearer definition of casual employment with a right to be converted to full time or part time, changes to the making of enterprise agreements and criminal offences for underpayment of wages.

Definition of casual employment; conversion to part time or full time

Acknowledging the cyclical nature of the industry that requires flexible work arrangements – especially for small businesses in the competitive market where sometimes margins are tight – the HIA broadly approves the Bill’s proposed definition of casual employment.

The specific definition refers to casual being when “employment is offered and accepted without any firm advance commitment that the work will continue indefinitely according to an agreed pattern of work.”

Some awards now have a provision whereby casual employees can elect to convert to a part time or full time role after 6 to 12 months of ‘regular and systematic employment.’

The HIA agrees with this whilst remarking that the new rules are complex and believe there should be a clearer pathway for employee and employers to discuss one-on-one a conversion. Current reasonable grounds whereby an employer can turn down a request include a significant adjustment to the casual employees hours or if it is likely the casual employee’s position would no longer exist in a year.

Enterprise Agreement changes

The HIA notes that outlined in a regulatory statement attached to the Bill, there has been a decline in enterprising bargaining. They argue that small businesses in their industry under the current bargaining model under the Fairwork Act fails to support gains in productivity, flexibility and efficiency.

Therefore, HIA supports a bargaining framework that will lead to better outcomes for both employers and employees.

New criminal offences for wage underpayment

Part I of Schedule 5 of the Bill refers to an increase in penalties for remuneration breaches. HIA opposes these new measures saying that don’t account for the conduct and behaviours which cause the penalty in the first place.

Additionally, they don’t believe the underpayment penalties are fair in certain cases.

This is an example they used to argue their case.

“..a minor administrative error or award interpretation issue applied over sometime to a large workforce can equate to a significant underpayment, as compared to a scenario where an employer deliberately underpays their employees in lieu of supporting their working visa arrangements. While the scale of the former is greater, the latter is more severe and so should attract a greater penalty.”

In terms of sham contracting, they believe the large penalties against businesses that engage in this behaviour demonstrate the current laws in place are effective.

Therefore, they do not support a change to current penalties in place for sham contracting.


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