Secure Jobs Bill passes House, with amendments

On Thursday 10 November the House of Representatives passed an amended version of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. The focus will now turn to the Senate inquiry into the legislation, with both submissions due and public hearings resuming on Friday 11 November.

The Government, which has the numbers in the House, passed about 150 amendments, despite concern among crossbencher MPs and the Opposition over so-called union “veto” powers over agreements being put directly to employees, the definition of small businesses that would be covered by the bargaining system and the common interest test for multi-employer bargaining.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke told the House the amendments made “sensible changes” to the Bill to address issues that arose during consultation, although some merely corrected simple drafting errors.

He said the changes would reinforce the “primacy” of single enterprise agreements, with employers that had agreed with a union to begin bargaining for a single enterprise agreement to be exempt from the single interest stream.

The FWC will be able to exempt an employer from the single interest stream where the employer has a history of effective bargaining for six months after the expiry of its agreement.

“These changes will allow businesses who successfully bargain at the enterprise level to continue to do so and act as a strong incentive for new single enterprise agreements to be made,” Burke said.

All voting processes under the new single interest and supported bargaining streams will proceed on an employer-by-employer basis, meaning an employer cannot be “brought to the table to bargain” or be covered by a multi-employer agreement unless either a majority of its own workforce or the employer supports it.

The minister said this meant industrial action, “where it is permitted, cannot occur where the workers for that employer have not voted for it”.

The changes will also require a minimum period of good faith bargaining before an intractable bargaining declaration can be issued by the FWC, while the exclusion of the CFMMEU from multi-employer bargaining will be strengthened and the new National Construction Industry Forum will be established as a statutory advisory body.

A series of Opposition amendments failed to win support, as did most changes put by crossbenchers.

Teals seeking to change small business definition

Several independent MPs criticised the legislation for defining a small business as having up to 15 employees and leaving them to be covered by the changes to collective bargaining.

Victorian Independent Helen Haines said there is “universal concern” about the definition of small business, and it needed it be negotiated higher.

However, Burke said some crossbenchers suggested shifting the definition from a headcount to full-time equivalents, or a change in numbers.

He said the Government’s preference is to keep it at a headcount of 15 although he respected that there will be “different negotiations on that” in the Senate.

“I appreciate that, particularly for a number of the crossbenchers, a shift on this area is an absolutely critical issue, and that’s been conveyed to me.”

Burke blasted the Opposition for seeking to raise the small business threshold to 200 employees, noting this is double the number used in the Howard Government’s Work Choices laws.

This article has been prepared for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact Workplace Resolutions Law directly on (03) 5499 6131 or by email at

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