And in another change aimed at simplifying awards, permanent part-time workers in the 12 award categories will be able to do extra work during regular hours without having to be paid penalty rates.
This is something that now acts as a disincentive for employers to request extra hours and encourages them to hire casuals.
The government says this measure will reduce underemployment by giving permanent part-timers more work and reduce the reliance on casuals.
The Labor movement is likely to fight changes to the BOOT but is in-principle supportive of the award simplification and the two-year exemptions under the Fair Work Act for the employers in the 12 award areas.
The Australian Financial Review understands that employers in award categories such as retail, accommodation, food services, restaurants and hospitality, will be granted the exemptions similar to the temporary exemptions that were handed to businesses either receiving JobKeeper, or which received the wage subsidy in the first round.
The JobKeeper-related exemptions enabled the employers to vary a worker’s hours, duties performed and location of work. These exemptions expire when JobKeeper expires at the end of March.
Wage theft a crime
But under the federal government’s omnibus industrial relations bill to be released on Wednesday, employers in the 12 award categories, regardless of whether they once received JobKeeper, will be given exemptions to alter duties performed and locations worked, but not hours worked.
There will be some sort of qualification test.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the measure was necessary to provide the flexibility to help businesses in the hardest hit areas back on their feet.
He said the JobKeeper-linked exemptions had saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and there could not be a”cold flip” when JobKeeper ended.
“We have two try to find a way to sensibly transition businesses out of the COVID JobKeeper flexibilities,” he said.
“We want to make sure those flexibilities are tapered off and that businesses can enjoy the benefit of them in a reasonable way and keep enjoying them as we grow out of the COVID pandemic.”
The omnibus bill will also, as promised, contain a new criminal penalty for wage theft, and boosted civil penalties for underpayment.
Employers who deliberately underpay workers face up to four years in jail and a fine of $1.11 million under a new criminal offence targeting wage theft.
“Whilst most employers do the right thing and ensure their staff receive their full entitlements, it is also clear that tougher penalties are needed – including a new criminal offence – to protect workers and honest businesses from the small minority of unscrupulous operators who deliberately exploit their staff,” Mr Porter said.
The criminal offence would apply for egregious wage theft, in which a “national system employer dishonestly engages in a deliberate and systematic pattern of underpaying one or more of their employees”.
An example would be that of the 7-Eleven chain of stores several years ago.
Any individuals convicted of the criminal offence would also be automatically disqualified from managing corporations for a period of five years under the Corporations Act.
It would not apply to one-off underpayments, inadvertent mistakes or miscalculations. Civil penalties will also be increased to ensure compliance by individuals and corporations.
Labor is still deliberating its response to the measures and will not take a firm position until the full bill is released.
While the BOOT changes are likely to be opposed, opposition industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke singled out an element concerning casuals which would remove so-called double dipping.
This was called for by business after the Federal Court ruled a casual employee who had effectively been working full-time regular hours be paid benefits he would have accrued as a full-time worker, on top of 25 per cent casual loading he was paid.
The rule change will mean in the case of any further such rulings the benefits must be reduced by the loading thus far paid.