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Monday, 25 June 2012
Page: 7596


Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (10:08): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Education and Employment, I present the committee's advisory report on the Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012, incorporating additional comments and a dissenting report, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Ms RISHWORTH: On 16 February 2012, the House Selection Committee referred the Fair Work Amendment (Better Work/Life Balance) Bill 2012 to the employment and education committee for inquiry and report. The bill was introduced by the member for Melbourne, who was subsequently appointed to the committee for the purposes of this inquiry. The inquiry received 23 submissions from employee and employer groups, carer organisations and others with an interest in flexible arrangements in Australian workplaces. On 23 March, the committee held a public hearing in Canberra to explore some of the themes raised in submissions with stakeholders as well as with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

The bill proposes substantive and formal changes to the current right to request flexible working arrangements. The substantive changes to the right to request include: increasing the scope of the right to request flexible working arrangements to all national system employees; increasing the scope of arrangements that define a carer in relation to requests for flexible working arrangements; and strengthening the grounds required to refuse a request for flexible working arrangements for the purposes of caring from 'reasonable business grounds' to 'serious countervailing business grounds'. The bill also proposes empowering Fair Work Australia to make flexible working arrangements orders and provides for the imposition of penalties on parties that fail to implement these orders.

Submissions to the inquiry were divided on whether they supported or opposed the proposed extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements. These arrangements are currently subject to a number of reviews outlined in the report. These include an independent review of the Fair Work Act 2009 and a consultation by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations on expanding the right to request flexible working arrangements under the National Carer Recognition Framework. Additionally, the General Manager of Fair Work Australia is currently conducting research into the extent to which individual flexibility arrangements under modern awards and enterprise agreements are being agreed to, and the content of those arrangements; and the operation of the provisions of the National Employment Standards relating to employee requests.

I note that, while the majority of members of the committee agreed with the principles outlined in the bill, the committee has recommended that the bill not be considered until the results of these reviews and government responses are released.

As well as extending the right to request flexible working arrangements, the bill proposes to alter the formal status of the right by removing these provisions from the National Employment Standards. Only one organisation provided evidence to the inquiry that supported the proposed removal of the right to request flexible working arrangements from the National Employment Standards. Others either questioned or opposed this element of the bill. I understand the member for Melbourne has provided additional comments on the purpose of such a change. However, there was considerable argument against the proposed removal of flexible working arrangements from the National Employment Standards. That was certainly a concern of government members of the committee.

The National Employment Standards set out clear minimum conditions that must apply to employees and it is appropriate that the right to request flexible working arrangements is included. This was the view held by government members of the committee. The inclusion of the right to request, as a minimum condition of employment, contributes to an awareness that benefits both employees and employers. Removal of the right to request would also mean that agreed individual flexible working arrangements could be overridden by a collective enterprise agriculture agreement—a situation described by the Ai Group as 'counterintuitive'.

In closing, I thank all those who provided evidence to the inquiry for making the trip to Canberra and my committee colleagues for the work they put into it. I also note the work done by the secretariat, in particular Glenn Worthington. I thank them for their input and I commend the report to the House.