Thursday, 24 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail
Thank you, very much. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the Employment and Workplace Relations. I'd like to focus my comments and questions on changes to the funding of the Fair Work Commission.
The secure jobs, better pay bill, which is likely to pass through parliament in the next week, will make significant changes to the workload of the Fair Work Commission. Some of this likely change is recognised with increased funding, but some is not recognised, and I, as well as constituents and others, am concerned that the Fair Work Commission may become a bottleneck preventing wages from increasing.
Firstly, I want to clarify whether a function of the Fair Work Commission has new funding or not. I acknowledge that the functions of the Registered Organisations Commission are transferred to the Fair Work Commission, with a $7.7 million defunding from the Fair Work Ombudsman and Registered Organisations Commission entity and corresponding additional funding to the Fair Work Commission. This seems inconsistent with the text below in the bill, which says that—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 12:20 to 12:29
Thirdly, and more broadly, if the IR bill passes in its current form, or close to it, the Fair Work Commission is about to significantly increase its responsibilities and powers beyond the areas already discussed for which additional funding has been allocated. Many of these changes require or increase the likelihood of the intervention of the Fair Work Commission in agreements and industrial disputes. This includes intervening when employees and businesses can't agree on flexible working arrangements; resolving intractable bargaining disputes through arbitration where there's no reasonable prospect of an agreement being reached; determining whether to authorise workers with a common interest to bargain together—this will be complex and will require an in-depth understanding of different types of businesses to determine whether there's a genuine common interest—dealing with the growth in sector-wide industrial disputes under multi-employer bargaining; and arbitrating multi-employer bargaining across a large number of businesses.
I note the total agency resourcing for 2022-23 has increased by 12 per cent to $95 million, compared to $85 million in 2021-22. The Fair Work Ombudsman will also need to undertake the current workload of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. While it's acknowledged that there is a reduction in the scope being transferred to the Fair Work Ombudsman, there's still a significant additional workload if it takes on some of the case load.
Can the minister please inform House whether he believes that these additional functions can be done within the funding already allocated, and, if so, what assumptions will be used to estimate the additional workload for each body? My concern is that an additional unfunded workload for the Fair Work Commission will make the Fair Work Commission a bottleneck, contrary to the government's intention to increase wages in a rapid fashion.