Release type: Media Release


New Year changes for workplace relations and workplace safety


The Hon Kate Ellis MP
Acting Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations

Important changes to the workplace relations system and coverage of national work health and safety laws come into effect tomorrow.

Acting Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Kate Ellis said the changes will improve the operation of the Fair Work Act and increase the number of Australians covered by national work health and safety rules.

“These changes usher in reforms to the workplace relations system and provide more Australians with the benefit of nationally harmonised work health and safety laws,” Ellis said.

The Fair Work Amendment Act 2012, which passed the Parliament in late November, implements a number of recommendations from the independent Fair Work Act Review, and other changes arising from the Government’s consultation with stakeholders such as members of the National Workplace Relations Consultative Council, small business representatives, the Fair Work Ombudsman and Fair Work Australia.

Key changes include renaming the national workplace relations tribunal as the Fair Work Commission.   This name more accurately reflects the institution’s functions as Australia’s national workplace relations tribunal and role within the Fair Work system. As well as the name change, the Fair Work Commission will undergo structural changes including the creation of two vice-president positions and a statutory complaints handling process for tribunal members.

Unfair dismissal changes commencing on 1 January 2013 include:

  • aligning the timeframes for making unfair dismissal claims and general protections dismissal claims at 21 days
  • improvements to cost orders provisions that discourage unreasonable conduct that causes costs for other parties
  • more power for the Fair Work Commission to dismiss applications in certain circumstances

“These changes achieve an important balance—protecting workers from unfair dismissal while minimising unreasonable claims and ensuring small business does not get bogged down with unnecessary red-tape, unreasonable conduct and vexatious litigation,” Ellis said.

A range of technical changes resulting from the review of the Fair Work Act also come into effect, including prohibiting opt-out clauses in enterprise agreements, and clarifications around protected action ballots and modern award variation.

Meanwhile, workplaces in South Australia and Tasmania are even safer with the introduction of harmonised Work Health and Safety (WHS) arrangements.

“As of today 64 in every 100 working Australians will be covered by modern, best practice and consistent laws,” Ellis said.

This is a significant milestone in the history of work health and safety in our nation.

Harmonised WHS laws will reduce red tape and deliver safer workplaces and are estimated to generate national net benefits of $250 million each year over the next decade. The laws are also expected to generate productivity improvements of up to $2 billion a year over the same period.