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Vulnerable Workers Bill not yet fair – changes needed

1 March 2017

The National Farmers’ Federation will not support the implementation of draconian penalties for admin errors and the stripping away of the right to silence as proposed in the Vulnerable Workers Bill which was introduced to Parliament today.

Chief Executive Tony Mahar said by and large the Bill proposed valuable new protections for employees however several amendments were needed before the Bill could be deemed equitable.

“The NFF has led the way in developing measures to improve protections for vulnerable employees for example by achieving consensus for a labour hire certification scheme for the horticulture industry,” Mr Mahar said.

“And we will always continue to work constructively with government on the issue of protecting vulnerable employees,” Mr Mahar said.

However he said the NFF could not support a general doubling of penalties for record keeping and payslip errors - which are common given Australia’s complex workplace laws – as proposed in this Bill.

“Nor will we support plans to make holding companies generally liable for the actions of their subsidiaries.”

Mr Mahar said of particular concern was the proposed new coercive powers for the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).

“New coercive powers for the FWO would deny individuals the right to silence when faced with prosecution under workplace law.

“They would apply to almost every employer and every worker and serve to undermine trust and confidence in government, and drive up legal costs in every workplace in Australia.

Mr Mahar said the Vulnerable Workers Bill would create these new powers, with no checks or balances to ensure they were appropriately applied.

“There is no evidence to support the need for new, extreme powers of this kind across the board.

“The Bill, as it stands, proposes a much less favourable operating environment for all Australian employers.”

Mr Mahar said the NFF would be meeting with Parliamentarians to ask them to oppose the Bill in its current form.

“We stand ready to work with the Government, the opposition and the cross-bench towards a more targeted and reasonable approach to protect vulnerable workers in our society.”

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