- Recent amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 mean employers are now subject to significantly higher penalties for deliberate and systematic breaches of the FW Act, as well as record-keeping failures.
- Franchisors will be exposed to legal liability and penalties where they could reasonably be expected to have known of the contravention.
- Prohibitions on employee payments to employers (‘cash-back’ arrangements) have been strengthened.
- The FWO will have more teeth, with enhanced evidence gathering powers.
In recent times, revelations of systemic breaches of workplace laws in a number of major franchise businesses – including the widely reported investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman into the 7-Eleven franchise last year – have generated significant public concern about the exploitation of vulnerable workers, in particular migrant workers and many of those who work in the franchise sector.
The commencement of the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 (‘Act’) responds to calls for Australia’s workplace laws to be amended to increase the responsibility of franchisors to monitor and take action in relation to activities occurring within their business networks.
The Act, which was first introduced into Parliament in March this year, amends the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (‘FW Act’), and includes a number of significant amendments agreed to by the Government which secured its passage in the Senate. Most provisions in the Act came into effect on 15 September 2017, with those provisions expanding the obligations of franchisors and holding companies to apply to contraventions that occur from 27 October 2017.
The key features of the Act are summarised below. Note: all references to the FW Act in this article reflect the new section of the FW Act as amended by the Act.