Program 2.2 Workers’ Compensation Payments (COMCARE)

Special appropriations to Comcare are provided through the department. Management of the Comcare Workers’ Compensation Scheme contributes to the achievement of Outcome 2. Further information can be found in the Comcare 2017–18 Annual Report.

Workforce participation policy initiatives 

Women’s workforce participation

In 2014, the Australian Government led the G20 to set a goal to reduce the labour force participation gap between men and women aged 15 to 64 by 25 per cent by 2025.

The goal used the participation rates of working-aged (15 to 64 years) men and women in 2012 as a baseline, which allows comparison across G20 countries. In 2012, the participation gap between working-aged men and women was 12.1 percentage points. This means that for Australia to meet the G20 goal, the participation gap needs to decrease to 9.1 percentage points, a reduction of three percentage points.

The gap between men and women’s labour force participation is closing. ABS labour force data shows that over 2017–18, the participation gap reduced from 10.4 percentage points to 9.5 percentage points in trend terms.

In July 2017, the Government released Towards 2025: an Australian Government strategy to boost women’s workforce participation. The strategy sets out the Government’s roadmap to meet the G20 target, including annual implementation plans setting out the priorities for the next 12 months, and reports on the previous year’s action and progress towards meeting the target.

The Office for Women and the department worked closely to develop the Towards 2025 strategy and the 2017–18 implementation plan, which outlined 13 actions led by the department. These include the national rollout of ParentsNext, and projects under the Launch into Work and the Career Transition Assistance programs. The department also undertook a number of low-cost, non-legislative projects such as promoting the economic and business benefits of flexible work to small and medium enterprises, with a strong focus on working mothers.

The department released its first Gender Equality Action Plan in 2016 in response to the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy—2016–2019. This year, the action plan was brought under the new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2018–2020 which highlights the department’s ongoing commitment to an inclusive, diverse and safe place for people to work.

Workplace relations policy advice 

Protecting vulnerable workers  

Since its establishment in October 2016, the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce has identified improvements to deliver better protections for overseas workers in Australia. The taskforce is considering a number of policy issues including:

  • dealing with unscrupulous labour hire operators
  • managing exploitation of international students and working holiday makers
  • improving government communication with migrant workers, and
  • achieving better coordination of government services and compliance activities.

The taskforce held two stakeholder roundtables in July 2017 to hear from legal organisations, community groups, academics, employers and employee groups on suitable policy responses and remedies to workplace exploitation.

With support from the Fair Work Ombudsman, the department commissioned research into the information needs of vulnerable temporary migrant workers about workplace laws. Recommendations and findings from the research will be included in the report of the taskforce.

The term of the taskforce was extended in April for six months until 30 September 2018.

In September 2017, the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 took effect. The change included introducing higher penalties to deter employers who deliberately and systematically underpay their workers and to strengthen the fair work act:

  • increase maximum fines for record-keeping and payslip failures
  • introduce a new category of ‘serious contraventions’ where penalties have increased by 10 times for deliberate and systematic contraventions involving underpayments and similar contraventions
  • introduce new penalties for deliberately hindering or obstructing Fair Work inspectors or providing false and misleading information to the regulator, and
  • introduce new provisions in the Fair Work Act to hold franchisors and holding companies responsible for underpayments by their franchisees or subsidiaries in certain circumstances.

Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption

The department continued to advise the Government on its commitment to improve the transparency and accountability of registered unions and employer associations. The department assisted with the Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Act 2017, which passed through Parliament on 10 August 2017. The Act bans corrupt and secret payments between employers and unions, and requires both to disclose any financial benefits they gain from a proposed enterprise agreement.

Two other bills that implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption were introduced into Parliament in 2017. The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017, introduced on 16 August 2017, will broaden the grounds on which the Federal Court can disqualify officers and deregister organisations. It will also introduce a public interest test for mergers of organisations.

The Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2017, introduced on 19 October 2017, regulates worker entitlement funds. It will prescribe basic governance standards for the funds and ensure fund money is spent transparently and for the benefit of workers.

The Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review

Together with the Department of the Treasury, and in consultation with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Social Services, the department prepared the Government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual wage review. The Fair Work Commission’s decision affects around 200,000 employees who are paid the national minimum wage rate and up to 2.3 million employees on award classification wages.

On 1 June 2018, the Fair Work Commission announced its decision to increase the national minimum wage rate and award classification wages by 3.5 per cent. From 1 July 2018, the national minimum wage rate increased to $719.20 a week ($18.93 an hour).

Pay equity and participation

The department continued to provide policy advice on issues relevant to women’s participation in paid work, including pay equity matters, analysis of the gender pay gap, workplace flexibility, and workplace responses to family and domestic violence.

The number of women appointed to government boards in the Jobs and Innovation portfolio has increased. The portfolio has seven boards with 54.1 per cent of reportable positions held by women at 30 June 2018. This is an increase of 6.56 percentage points since 30 June 2017 when women held 47.5 per cent of reportable positions in the portfolio.

The department provided policy advice on issues relating to the annual workplace gender reporting framework administered by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. On 19 April 2018, responsibility for the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 transferred to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to support the Government’s priority work on women’s economic participation.

The safety net, awards policy and superannuation

The department continued to provide policy advice to Government on safety net, modern award and superannuation matters throughout the year.

The department made a submission to the Senate Education and Employment References Committee’s inquiry into penalty rates on 18 July 2017 and appeared at a public hearing of the committee on 25 August 2017. Advice was provided for the Government response to the committee’s report which was tabled on 30 January 2018.

The department continued to monitor and advise on numerous matters being considered by the Fair Work Commission as part of the four yearly review of modern awards. Significant matters in 2017–2018 included casual and part-time, family and domestic violence leave, and family friendly work arrangements common issues.

The Fair Work Commission decided on 26 March 2018 to insert five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave in all modern awards. The Government announced it will amend the Fair Work Act 2009 to extend unpaid family and domestic violence leave to other national system employees.

Building and construction

The department provides ongoing policy support to the Australian Building and Construction Commission, including implementing the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016.

The department helped the Minister recruit new Australian Building and Construction Commissioner. On 5 January 2018, Minister Laundy announced the appointment of Mr Stephen McBurney as the new Commissioner.

Workplace relations legal advice

During the year, the department provided legal advice to portfolio ministers, portfolio agencies and other stakeholders about the operation of the national workplace relations system; developments arising from relevant court and tribunal decisions in federal, state and territory jurisdictions; work health and safety and workers’ compensation; and public sector employment matters.

Primary legislation

The department supported the development of the following legislation to implement the Government’s workplace relations priorities:

  • The Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Act 2017 to implement recommendations from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. The Act implements recommendations 40, 41 and 48. It bans corrupt and secret payments between employers and unions, and requires both employers and unions to disclose any financial benefits they stand to gain from a proposed enterprise agreement. It passed both Houses of Parliament on 10 August 2017 and received Royal Assent on 16 August 2017. The Act commenced on 11 September 2017.
  • The Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 was introduced on 1 March 2017, passed both Houses on 5 September 2017 and received Royal Assent on 14 September 2017. This Act gives effect to the Governments’ election commitment to ensure workers are protected from exploitive and unfair practices in the workplace. It makes franchisors and holding companies responsible for underpayments by their franchisees or subsidiaries in certain circumstances, increases penalties for ‘serious contraventions’ and record-keeping failures, prohibits cash-back arrangements, and strengthens the evidence gathering powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
  • The Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2017 is before the Senate. It would implement recommendations from the Trade Union Royal Commission with a view to reducing financial misconduct and increasing transparency in registered organisations. The Bill would introduce regulation and basic governance standards for worker entitlement funds; require disclosure to affected employers and employees of any financial benefits a registered organisation may receive from promoting or arranging an insurance-related arrangement or payment to a worker entitlement fund; and broaden and introduce further financial disclosure obligations on registered organisations.
  • The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2017 would implement recommendations from the Trade Union Royal Commission by addressing organisational and officer misconduct, and strengthening the accountability of registered organisations. As well as implementing a number of other election commitments, it would broaden the grounds on which the Federal Court can disqualify officers, deregister organisations and place an organisation into administration, and introduce a public interest test for amalgamations.
  • The Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill 2017 would amend the Fair Work Act 2009 to respond to recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s Final Report into the Workplace Relations Framework. The Bill removes the requirement for the Fair Work Commission to conduct four-yearly reviews of modern awards and enables the Fair Work Commission to overlook minor procedural or technical errors that are not likely to disadvantage employees when approving an enterprise agreement. The Bill also responds to two recommendations made by the Hon. Peter Heerey AM QC in his Report of Inquiry into Complaints about former Vice President Lawler of the Fair Work Commission. The Bill passed the Senate with amendments and was returned to the House of Representatives on 4 December 2017.

Legislative instruments

The department developed and streamlined regulations to give effect to the Government’s workplace relations priorities. Regulatory improvements made during 2017–18 were:

  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Specified Diseases and Employment) Instrument 2017 creates a rebuttal presumption that certain specified occupational diseases were significantly contributed to by the employee’s employment for the purposes of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Specified Laws) Declaration 2017 ensures that compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 must be repaid or offset against any compensation recovered under specified state laws.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment (Australian Signals Directorate) Regulations 2018 respond to the Australian Signals Directorate’s establishment as a statutory authority independent from the Department of Defence. The regulations ensure that workers’ compensation premiums and regulatory contributions are still payable in respect of the directorate and there remains a principal officer for the directorate and a rehabilitation authority for employees of the directorate for the purposes of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.
  • The Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) (Prescribed Ship or Unit—Intra-State Trade) Declaration 2017 provides that a ship or vessel which is only engaged in intra-state trade is not a prescribed ship or a prescribed unit for the purposes of the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) Act 1993. It replaces the Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) (Prescribed Ship or Unit — Intra-State Trade) Declaration 2015 (No. 2). This instrument commenced on 16 June 2017.
  • The Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Prescribed Ship—Intra-State Trade) Declaration 2017 provides that a foreign ship engaged in intra-state trade is not a prescribed ship for the purposes of the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1992. It replaces the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Prescribed Ship—Intra-State Trade) Declaration 2015 (No. 2). This instrument commenced on 16 June 2017.
  • The Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work Amendment (Infrastructure Exemptions) Instrument 2017 commenced on 22 August 2017. It amends the Code for the Tendering and Performance of Building Work 2016 (Building Code 2016) to provide for a mandatory exemption from the application of the Building Code 2016 for certain essential services providers.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Commonwealth Authority) Declaration 2017 provides that Aboriginal Hostels Ltd would continue to be a Commonwealth authority. It commenced on 1 October 2017.
  • The Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Regulations 2017 amend the Fair Work Regulations 2009 to address a number of consequential matters relating to amendments of the Fair Work Act 2009 by the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017. The Regulations commenced on 21 December 2017.
  • The Work Health and Safety (Managing Risks in Stevedoring) Code of Practice 2017 provides practical guidance to duty holders on meeting their obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011. It commenced on 6 December 2017.
  • The reporting guidelines for the purposes of section 253 – 3rd edition, made under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, provides financial reporting guidelines in relation to low-income registered organisations.
  • The reporting guidelines for the purposes of section 253 – 5th edition, made under the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, provides reporting guidelines in relation to information, reports or statements required in a reporting unit’s general purpose financial report.
  • The Fair Work Amendment (Corrupting Benefits) Regulations 2017, which commenced on 29 January 2018, amended the Fair Work Regulations 2009 to prescribe technical requirements in relation to the content and form of disclosure documents prepared by bargaining representatives (employers, employer organisations and unions) for a proposed enterprise agreement. Bargaining representatives are required to disclose financial benefits that they, or parties closely connected to them, may derive because of a term of the proposed agreement.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Licence Eligibility—DHL Express (Australia) Pty Ltd) Declaration 2018 allows DHL Express to make an application to self-insure under the Comcare scheme. It commenced on 21 March 2018.
  • The Fair Entitlements Guarantee (extended operation of the Act in relation to Custom Bus Pty Ltd in Administration) Declaration 01/2018 was made on 6 April 2018. This instrument declares that the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012 applies to people who were employed, but are no longer employed, by Custom Bus Australia Pty Ltd, an entity under administration under Part 5.3A of the Corporations Act 2001.
  • The Fair Work Amendment (Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands) Regulations 2018 amended the Fair Work Regulations 2009 to provide that the Fair Work Act 2009 operates in the same way in relation to Western Australian Government employers and their public sector employees while working in either Christmas Island or the Cocos (Keeling) Islands as it does in Western Australia. The Amendment Regulations commenced on 1 May 2018. They were made following a request by the Western Australian Government.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Subsection 5(13) Declarations) Amendment and Repeal Instrument 2018 repeals a number of declarations made under subsection 5(13) of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 in relation to bodies which have ceased to operate. It also amends the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 – Notice of Declaration (Notice No. ACT 1 of 1994) to ensure the Comcare scheme continues to apply to Australian Capital Territory Government employees. It commenced on 12 May 2018.
  • The Coal Mining Industry (Long Service Leave) Administration Regulations 2018 were made on 2 March 2018 and commenced on 1 July 2018. They replace the sunsetting Coal Mining Industry (Long Service Leave) Administration Regulations 1993. These prescribe the requirements that must be met before a person or a corporation can administer the fund. The regulations also prescribe the kinds of employees who may make a waiver agreement with their employers.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Weekly Interest on the Lump Sum) Instrument 2018 specifies the ‘weekly interest on the lump sum’ rate applicable on and from 1 July 2018 for the purposes of subsections 21(3) and 21A(3) of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.
  • The Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Regulations 2018 repeal the current regulations and specify a new levy rate of $25 per seafarer berth on prescribed ships.
  • The Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Collection Regulations 2018 provide for matters associated with the collection of the levy. They replace the Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Collection Regulations 2002 before their sunsetting date.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Directions Amendment Instrument 2018 amends the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Directions 2002 to exclude the Australian Capital Territory from sections 4 and 9.
  • The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Commonwealth Authority) Declaration 2017 will consolidate and maintain all the current Commonwealth authority declarations made under subsection 4(1) of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 in one instrument.

Workers’ compensation and work health and safety

Workers’ compensation policy

The department collaborated with Comcare and Australian Public Service (APS) departments and agencies to improve early intervention and rehabilitation, and to achieve a sustainable return to work for APS employees after an injury or illness. This included chairing the Deputy Secretaries’ Working Group on Managing Workers’ Compensation in the Commonwealth, which identified and promoted non-legislative ways APS agencies can improve their performance in injury prevention, early intervention, rehabilitation and return to work.

The department also advised the Government on embedding the competitive choice of workers’ compensation claims managers as an ongoing feature of the Comcare scheme for APS departments and agencies. This reflects the success of an outsourcing pilot in achieving savings and improving return to work outcomes. The decision means APS agencies will have the option to outsource their workers’ compensation claims management and take greater control of determining claims under delegation from Comcare.

Workplace safety policy

The department contributed to developing and implementing a national approach to work health and safety as the member representing the Australian Government at Safe Work Australia. The department is continuing to participate in the 2018 Review of the Model Work Health and Safety Laws, currently being undertaken by Safe Work Australia, and looks forward to reviewing its recommendations in light of the Commonwealth jurisdiction.

The department continued to provide advice on policy and legal matters relating to the model work health and safety laws. This includes preparing submissions to several Senate inquiries including on:

  • work health and safety of workers in the offshore petroleum industry,
  • the framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia, and
  • the high rates of mental health conditions experienced by first responders, emergency service workers and volunteers.

A number of Quad Bike Safety Inter-departmental Committee meetings were convened during the year. Membership comprises a range of Commonwealth agencies and nominated state work health and safety regulators. The committee pursued initiatives to improve quad bike safety for both workplace and private use, including the feasibility of a safety rating system and minimum design standards. This work was referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the department is supporting the commission with its investigation.

The department and Department of Home Affairs co-lead whole-of-government coordination of asbestos policy issues across the supply chain. This involves working with Commonwealth policy and regulatory agencies, and engaging with relevant state and territory authorities and other stakeholders. This work has improved information sharing and coordinated management across agencies and jurisdictions, especially in relation to the importation of products containing asbestos. Over the past year, the Commonwealth Asbestos Interdepartmental Committee has driven work to:

  • improve import sampling and testing to identify asbestos
  • investigate new technology, and
  • consider options to strengthen the regulatory framework to ensure it supports a nationally coordinated and consistent approach.

The department also assisted Ms Jane Hall of Seyfarth Shaw with the independent review of the work health and safety regulatory framework in the building and construction industry, which covered the top three mechanisms of fatalities. Ms Hall’s findings will be provided to Safe Work Australia to help inform its 2018 review of the model work health and safety laws.

The Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner

The Federal Safety Commissioner (FSC) is supported by the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner (OFSC). The FSC administers the building and construction Work Health and Safety Accreditation Scheme, which is provided for by the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Act 2016 (BCIIP Act). Any person that wishes to carry out building work funded by the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth authority, over-prescribed financial thresholds, must be accredited under the scheme.

In 2017–18, the FSC accredited 31 new construction companies and managed the ongoing accreditation of over 440 companies. Since it was established in 2005, over 1,700 Commonwealth-funded construction projects worth more than $109 billion have used Work Health and Safety systems and practices accredited under the scheme.

The FSC also conducted a number of pilot audits during the year to explore how best to implement the new NCC performance standards function. Outcomes from the pilot are informing a proposed approach to achieve safety outcomes without duplicating state and territory regulatory frameworks.

In 2017–18 a new FSC was also appointed. This provided an opportunity for renewed focus on engaging with peak industry associations, and contributing to broader government and state and territory building industry matters, particularly concerning building products.

Review of Security of Payments Laws

The department assisted Mr John Murray AM in delivering his final report on the Review of Security of Payment Laws. The review examined ways to improve national consistency in security of payment legislation and enhance protections to ensure construction industry subcontractors are paid on time for their work. Following extensive industry consultation, Mr Murray delivered his final report in December 2017. Consideration of the recommendations is being progressed by the Building Ministers’ Forum with support from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

Small business and Deregulation

Small business

Small business plays an important role in the Australian economy, making up over 97 per cent of all businesses and accounting for nearly half of private sector employment. The Government is committed to ensuring the right conditions exist to allow small business to grow and thrive.

In 2017–18, the Small Business Policy area advised the Government on a range of matters, including the Australian Small Business Advisory Service, small business international engagement with the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Parliamentary Joint Inquiry into the Operation and Effectiveness of the Franchising Code of Conduct. Policy advice was also provided to other Government departments and areas of the department on a range of initiatives affecting small business. This includes the Black Economy Taskforce, regulatory reform, increasing small business engagement with the digital economy, and improving payment times and practices.

Deregulation – whole-of-government agenda

The Government is committed to improving the quality of regulation and how it is administered, as well as reducing unnecessary regulatory costs. The Deregulation Agenda has cut compliance costs for individuals, businesses and community organisations by almost $6 billion since 2013. The third annual deregulation report was published on 28 May 2018, highlighting the Government’s progress in making it easier for businesses and households to comply with regulations. Between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017, the Government took decisions to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses by more than $800 million a year. It will continue its focus on cutting red tape, improving regulatory performance and ensuring regulations are fit-for-purpose.