In a once in a 20-year opportunity, the Minister for Industrial Relations is now leading a new, time-bound, dedicated process that is bringing employers, industry groups, unions and government to the table to chart a practical reform agenda for Australia’s industrial relations system. The Minister is chairing five working groups for discussion as a part of the Government’s JobMaker plan. This process will run until September 2020.

The workplace relations framework in Australia is contained within a complex web of regulation. Ongoing legislative amendments (often following changes of government), a detailed and evolving award safety net and technology systems that aren’t built for the complexity of our regulations have all added to the density of the system.

Many businesses have employment issues, but the overall proportion of matters that end up in front of regulators such as the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), courts, tribunals and/or in the public domain, have been comparatively small, compared with other compliance areas, such as tax. But this is rapidly changing. The number of high-profile cases has placed wages and payroll at the forefront for regulators, legislators, unions and boards.

With such an intricate web of rules and regulations, there is a significant burden on businesses to keep track of all the shifts and variations in employment obligations. Understanding and correctly applying the workplace relations regime can be more art than science. This all adds additional cost and risk to business, it can result in the underpayment of wages and it can be a drain on productivity.

To better inform our clients and the broader community and help guide these discussions, KPMG has made an assessment of the potential options available to each of the five working groups that the Minister for Industrial Relations has put forward:

  1. Award simplification (covering modern awards in industry sectors heavily impacted by COVID-19).
  2. Enterprise agreement making.
  3. Casuals and fixed-term employees.
  4. Compliance and enforcement.
  5. Greenfields agreements for new enterprise.

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