New laws to protect vulnerable workers

The Fair Work Act 2009 (FW Act) has undergone significant changes via the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 (Amendment Act).

Most amendments came into operation on 15 September 2017 and the changes for franchisors and holding companies apply from 27 October 2017.

Firstly, the Amendment Act increases penalties for 'serious contraventions' of the FW Act.  A "serious contravention" occurs when:

  • the person or business knew they were contravening an obligation under a workplace law
  • the contravention was part of a systematic pattern of conduct affecting one or more people.

Maximum civil penalties are increased by 1000% for a serious contravention, making the maximum fine $126,000 for individuals and $630,000 for bodies corporate. 

Secondly, the Amendment Act makes it clear that employers may not ask for money from employees or prospective employees under a 'cashback scheme'.  This means that employers may not require an employee or prospective employee to spend their own money, or give them money, when it is:

  • unreasonable in the circumstances
  • directly or indirectly for the employer’s benefit
  • in the case of a prospective employee, in connection with their potential employment. 

Thirdly, holding companies and franchisors can be held liable if their subsidiary or franchisee does not comply with workplace laws.

Fourthly, the Amendment Act significantly raises the penalties for breaches of payslip and record-keeping requirements. Employers who do not meet record-keeping requirements without reasonable explanation will bear the onus of disproving allegations in wage claims.

The Amendment Act also strengthens the Fair Work Ombudsman’s powers to collect evidence during its investigations. These changes may have significant consequences for employers and electrical contractors are urged to contact NECA Legal if they have any questions.  

Disclaimer: The above information summary is not legal advice. Employers should contact NECA Legal (WA) Pty Ltd to discuss legislative obligations on (08) 6241 6129 or email necalegalwa@ecawa.org.au.