This chapter summarises certain key areas of interest raised during the
committee's consideration of additional estimates for the 2014–15 financial
year for the Employment Portfolio. It follows the order of proceedings and is
an indicative, not exhaustive, account of issues examined.
The committee heard evidence on 26 February and 10 April 2015 from
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz, Minister for Employment, along with
officers from the Department of Employment (the Department) and
agencies responsible for administering Employment policy, including:
Fair Work Commission;
Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman;
Safe Work Australia;
Comcare (including the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation
Commission, and the Seafarers Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency;
Workplace Gender Equality Agency; and
Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (Fair Work
Building and Construction).
The committee asked the Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Eric
Abetz, about the possibility of changes to penalty rates. The Minister
explained that the Fair Work Commission (FWC) is the appropriate body to make decisions
about penalty rates and advised that the FWC is currently considering penalty
rates as part of a four-year review of modern awards.
The committee also discussed the Productivity Commission's inquiry into
the workplace relations framework. While there is no explicit reference to
penalty rates, the terms of reference are sufficiently broad that penalty rates
could be included and the Productivity Commission has interpreted them in this
The Secretary of the Department, Ms Renée
Leon, indicated that the Department has engaged a number of non-ongoing
employees to assist with the tender for Employment Services 2015.
Ms Leon explained that recruitment is underway for the Chief Financial Officer
(CFO) position, following the transfer of the previous CFO to another
department, and also noted that a number of positions in the Department are
currently filled on an acting basis as the substantive occupant has been
transferred to the employment services tender taskforce.
The committee heard that the Department accepted 69 voluntary redundancies in
previous year, but was not planning any further voluntary or involuntary
Shared Services centre
The committee sought an update on the performance of the Shared Service
Centre (SSC), a joint initiative of the Departments of Employment and Education
and Training. The Minister stated:
This Shared Services Centre is being highly praised
throughout the Public Service. I know in my discussions with the Public Service
Commission and other areas that they are, in fact, looking at this as a
potential model to save considerable money for the taxpayer while still
ensuring excellent service delivery. It is an excellent model that I would
commend to other departments.
The committee heard that the SSC has expanded its operations to provide
services to other departments and agencies, including the Department of Prime
Minister and Cabinet, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the Public
Service Commission, on a fee-for-service basis.
Enterprise bargaining agreement
In response to a question about the Department's enterprise bargaining
agreement negotiations, Ms Leon advised that a ballot was conducted in December
2014 following four months of consultation with staff, but the ballot was
Ms Leon explained that the department would undertake further discussion with
staff and the Community and Public Sector Union before presenting a revised
Fair Work Commission
Compliance reporting and assessment
The committee heard evidence in relation to the FWC's oversight of
registered organisations. Ms Bernadette O'Neill, General Manager, advised the
committee that in the 2013–14 financial year, the voluntary compliance level
across 398 reporting units was 89 per cent, rising to 98 per cent following
intervention by the FWC.
Ms O'Neill confirmed that there is an increasing trend of voluntary, on-time
compliance since the 2009–10 financial year.
The committee was informed that the FWC has undertaken a range of initiatives
to assist entities to comply with their statutory obligations, including online
Right of entry permits
The committee discussed the granting, suspension and revocation of right
of entry permits. The Director of Regulatory Compliance, Mr Chris Enright,
explained that a registered organisation must apply for a right of entry permit
on behalf of the proposed permit holder, with both the organisation and the
individual required to make declarations in relation to the application.
Mr Enright described the matters that may affect whether an applicant is a fit
and proper person to hold a permit, including the training they have received,
any contraventions of industrial relations law, and whether they have had a
previous permit revoked or cancelled.
The committee heard also heard evidence in relation to the suspension and
revocation of permits.
Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman
Small Business Helpline
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Ms Natalie James, advised the committee
that since commencing operation in December 2013, the Small Business Helpline
received over 160 000 calls, almost 85 per cent of which were from businesses
with 14 or fewer employees.
The committee heard that there has been a dramatic increase in the
number of complaints made in relation to working holiday visas, or 417 visas.
The Deputy Fair Work Ombudsman, Mr Michael Campbell, described the broader
inquiry work the FWO is undertaking in this area:
We are trying to get a better grasp on some of the drivers of
non-compliance when it comes to the 417 visa holders, particularly given their
circumstances where they are working in the country, generally in regional
Australia. Just to give you some of the headlines. We are trying to understand
the employment relationships that are leading to the circumstances where the
visa holder is being underpaid. We are trying to clarify the boundaries between
the employment relationship which applies to the 417 visa holders while they
are in country. Ultimately we are trying to do that to give us a better handle
on not only the drivers but what our intervention can be to hopefully change
those practices and build a better culture of compliance when it comes to the
Mr Campbell told the committee that young workers form a significant
part of the FWO's compliance work and a specialist team has been established to
deal with complaints from young workers.
In the previous financial year, the Office received
6 257 complaints from workers aged 25 and under and recovered a total of $2 388
603 in unpaid or underpaid wages.
In addition to helping to resolve workplace complaints from young workers, the FWO
engages in preventative work:
A lot of our work at the front end of our business is about
trying to influence those relationships before they fall over. The vast
majority of our work is about proactive work, whether it be on the phones or
out in the field, in trying to influence those relationships before they break
down and resolve any issues that might be in place in a particular workplace.
The FWO online learning centre offers a number of modules covering
topics relevant to young workers, such as starting a new job and managing
Safe Work Australia
The committee followed up on evidence presented in previous estimates
hearings in relation to workplace fatalities. The committee heard that the
total number of workplace fatalities decreased from 50 in 2013 to 46 in 2014,
but had increased in certain sectors including mining and construction.
The committee also heard evidence from the Federal Safety Commissioner, Mr Alan
Edwards, about his regulatory and accreditation powers.
ACT exiting the Comcare scheme
The committee discussed the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) seeking
to exit the Comcare scheme. Ms Jennifer Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of
Comcare, confirmed that discussions had taken place with the ACT government,
but further assessment, consultation and negotiation would be required before
any decisions could be made.
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency
Asbestos in imported goods
In response to a question about allegations that contaminated goods are
entering Australia from China, the Chief Executive Officer of the Asbestos
Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), Mr Peter Tighe, acknowledged that there
were 'a number of instances of products coming in from China with a variety of
exposure to asbestos'.
Both Mr Tighe and the Minister emphasised the obligation on importers to ensure
that goods they import are asbestos-free.
Workplace Gender Equality Agency
The committee heard that the head of the Workplace Gender Equality
Agency (WGEA) would be leaving and Ms Louise McSorley had been appointed in an
acting capacity for 12 months.
'Daughter Water' campaign
The committee discussed the 'Daughter Water' pay equity campaign.
Yolanda Beattie, Public Affairs Executive Manager, advised that the campaign
video was viewed 70 000 times and the website received almost 30 000 unique visitors.
Ms Beattie gave evidence that the number of pay equity ambassadors had doubled
to 62, with the WGEA aiming to have 100 ambassadors by September 2015.
Ms Beattie advised the committee that approximately one third of
employers had downloaded their benchmark reports, which she described as the
'critical output' of the data received by the WGEA from employers, and said
that the number was expected to increase over time.
In addition, the data was the subject of approximately 150 media clips when
released in November 2015.
The committee also heard that 523 employers provided feedback on the pay
equity reporting process, identifying the calculation of total remuneration and
the classification of employees by manager and non-manager categories as the
most difficult aspects of reporting.
Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC)
The committee queried the nature and operation of Fair Work Building and
Construction's (FWBC) compulsory powers. The Director, Nigel Hadgkiss,
explained that FWBC's powers were modelled on those of the Australian Competition
and Consumer Commission, albeit with 'much greater safeguards'.
Mr Hadgkiss gave evidence that these compulsory powers are needed to ensure the
FWBC has the necessary evidence for prosecutions.
In response to a question about the behaviour of Construction, Forestry,
Mining and Energy Union officials towards FWBC staff, Mr Hadgkiss advised the
committee that he was aware of 11 instances of abuse and 3 cases of assault
since commencing in his role in October 2013.
Mr Hadgkiss described a further 25 cases of 'serious security matters'.
Job service providers
The committee questioned the Department in relation to its monitoring, oversight
and rating of job service providers. The committee heard that the Department is
working to strengthen compliance arrangements:
For the new contract, we are adding in a specific compliance
factor that will be part of the calculation. It will be used as part of the
overall star rating. We are working on the actual techniques at the moment, but
we are specifically strengthening it. So, where we find noncompliance, it will
have a stronger impact on the star ratings. It is an area where we have
identified we want to strengthen the contract relationship and send a very
clear signal to providers that, where we see noncompliance, we are going to
make sure it is recorded accurately and demonstrated in their star rating.
The committee sought information in relation to the jobactive
tender and the Department undertook to provide confidential briefings on the
Building and Construction Industry
(Fair and Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014
The committee discussed the Building and Construction Industry (Fair and
Lawful Building Sites) Code 2014 (the code). The committee heard that the code
is a voluntary, opt-in scheme, but its adoption is a prerequisite to tender for
Commonwealth-funded building work.
Senator Bridget McKenzie
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