Several Changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 came into effect on 1 January 2013. Other changes are intended to commence later in 2013.
In addition to renaming Fair Work Australia the Fair Work Commission (the Commission), there are changes to the Act in relation to unfair dismissals, general protections and enterprise agreements. These are detailed below.
Unfair Dismissals and General Protections
Employees dismissed on or after 1 January 2013 will have 21 days from the date of dismissal to lodge either an unfair dismissal or a general protections dismissal application.
The time limit for lodging unfair dismissal applications in relation to dismissals that occurred after 1 January 2013 has increased from 14 to 21 days.
The Commission will be given further powers to dismiss unfair dismissal applications and to make cost orders against parties, lawyers and paid agents in unfair dismissal matters.
The time limit for lodging a general protections dismissal application will be reduced from 60 to 21 days to bring both these and unfair dismissal application time limits into line.
Employees dismissed prior to 1 January 2013 who wish to lodge an unfair dismissal or general protections dismissal application still have 14 days and 60 days respectively from the date of dismissal to lodge an application.
The following changes have been made in relation to making enterprise agreements:
- enterprise agreements cannot be made with a single employee
- a union official cannot act as bargaining representative for an employee unless the union has coverage to represent that employee
- terms allowing an employee to opt out of an enterprise agreement are prohibited
- a bargaining representative applying for a scope order need only take all reasonable steps to give notice to other bargaining representatives, and
- employers cannot modify the notice of employee representational rights prescribed by the regulations.
Other changes include:
- provision for appointment of two Vice Presidents to the Commission
- clarifying when a modern award variation application can be struck out, and who can apply to vary a modern award to remove ambiguity or uncertainty or correct an error
- provision for electronic voting in protected action ballots
- employees representing themselves in bargaining may vote in a protected action ballot if they are members of a union that applied for the ballot order
- the Commission will be required to specify a date for the close of voting in a protected action ballot that will enable the ballot to be conducted expeditiously
- the Commission will be required to ensure that all modern awards include a default superannuation term, and conduct four-yearly reviews of default superannuation fund terms in awards (will not commence before 1 January 2014), and
- provision for appointment of six Expert Panel Members who have responsibilities in relation to annual wage reviews and reviews of default superannuation fund terms in awards (expected to commence on 1 July 2013).