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Secure Jobs & Better Pay in Australia

17 July 2023

Q. What is the Australian Secure Jobs, Better Pay Act 2022?

Michele O’Neil: A new Labor Government was elected in May 2022, with a mandate from voters to strengthen rights for workers. The Act was the first major piece of industrial relations reform by the new Government after 9 years of attacks on working conditions by the previous conservative Government. The Acts supports multi-employer bargaining, addresses insecure work and gender inequality.


 Q. Why was it necessary and how did it come about?

Michele O’Neil: Australia has faced successive conservative Government’s taking away worker and union rights. The result has been a big reduction in bargaining power for Australian workers, with one in seven employees covered by a current collective agreement, and laws that limit the capacity of workers to organize.

The economic environment in the lead up to the election was one of low wage growth and increasing inflation. The Australian union movement campaigned vigorously for increases to the minimum wage, and for laws that support workers to bargain for payrises. The Australian union movement has also campaigned strongly on wage theft – where companies and employers withhold legal entitlements, or pay under the legally required rate.

We also saw a rise in precarious work with employers turning permanent jobs into insecure ones. Prior to this new Act, over 4.1 million workers in Australia – nearly one in three – was in a form of insecure work. The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Act was a result of campaigning by the union movement, and strong support by the Australian public for change.

It made a start in delivering on the new Government’s commitments to make jobs more secure, and end wage theft (but more needs to be done, especially for workers in casual, gig or labour hire work and to recover underpayments).



Michele O'Neil, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions

Q. The Act promises to improve pay agreements, job security and gender equality – how will it do that?

 Michele O’Neil: The SJBP Act will help close the gender pay gap by making it easier to collectively bargain to deliver on gender equality, and by introducting multi-employer bargaining in female dominated industries, such as aged care and early learning.

The SJBP also:

  • Makes it easier for workers on expired agreements to start bargaining to bring their pay and conditions up to date.
  • Limits the ability of employers to terminate agreements as a bargaining tactic.
  • Has put job security within the objects of the Fair Work Act and the Modern Awards, meaning the Fair Work Commission must take into account the need to promote job security in the performance its functions.
  • Limits the use of the fixed term contracts to a period of two years,
  • Strengthens the equal pay laws in the Fair Work Act by providing new guidance for equal remuneration and work value cases to make it easier for female workers to win equal pay.
  • Includes gender equality within the objects of the Fair Work Act and the Modern Awards and Minimum Wages Objectives, meaning the Fair Work Commission must take into account the need to achieve gender equality in the performance of all of its functions and exercise of powers under the FW Act – for example, in setting the National Minimum Wage.
  • Prohibits pay secrecy clauses in employment contracts that hide pay discrimination against women, and gives workers the right to disclose their remuneration and any terms and conditions of employment reasonably necessary to determine remuneration.
  • Strengthens the right to request flexible working arrangements and gives the FWC additional powers to arbitrate over flexible work requests and extensions to unpaid parental leave – which will enable women and parents to better balance work and care and improve their workforce participation and income.
  • Addresses women’s safety at work by introducing a prohibition on sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act and strengthened protections against discrimination based on breastfeeding, gender identity and intersex status.
  • Provides greater access to the informal small claims processes for workers to recover their stolen wages. It will also outlaw ads for jobs with illegal rates of pay. This is a good start to address wage theft, but more needs to be done.


Q. Does the Act help unions recruit and organize members?

Michele O’Neil: Yes it does. Multi-employer bargaining and new rights create organising opportunities.  Unions will be able to recruit and organise by talking to members about the new rights, protections and entitlements that they have as a result of the SJBP Act and the union movement’s campaigns over many years to win these new laws. The expansion of multi-employer bargaining will enable workers and their unions to organise and pursue bargaining and improved pay and conditions for workers where it has previously not been available.


Q.How is the early implementation of the Act going? Does it look like a game changer for working people?

Michele O’Neil: Early signs suggest that the SJBP Act is having a significant impact on bargaining, wages and gender equity.

Our affiliates report that many employers have initiated or engaged in bargaining for single enterprise agreements as a result of the expansion of multi-employer bargaining, leading to an increase in bargaining activity and agreements being made.

Unions in the early childhood education and care sector have made an application under the new supported bargaining provisions, seeking an authorisation to bargain with 62 separate employers in the sector.

The most recent figures from the Wage Price Index (March 2023) show that wage outcomes over March quarter 2023 saw a continued lift in the share of jobs receiving wage rises of between 4 to 6%, which is the highest share since 2009.

There was an increased contribution to total wage growth from enterprise agreements, with a larger than usual March quarter contribution from jobs covered by enterprise agreement being driven by newly negotiated enterprise bargaining agreements across both private and public sectors and changes to public sector wage caps.


Q. Workers in many countries are worse off due to the decline in collective bargaining coverage and now face a cost-of-living crisis. Is the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Act an answer to these problems. Could it inspire workers in other countries?

Michele O’Neil: The SJBP Act is a critically important start to respond to the longstanding issues of wage stagnation, insecure work and the decline in collective bargaining, gender inequality as well as the current cost of living crisis that Australian workers are facing.

We are beginning to see positive developments and outcomes for workers that would not have been possible without these changes, and there is much more to come as the SJBP changes gradually flow through the economy. There is more to do to organise workers, address insecure work and wage theft, and to get bargaining and wage growth moving again, but we consider the SJBP Act to be a solid foundation on which to build.