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Updates on the Changes Agreed Between the Government and the Senate Over the Past Seven Days.

On the last sitting day for Parliament until May, the Fair Work Bill has passed through the Senate, after the Government reached a much debated agreement with Family First Senator Steve Fielding, on phasing-in its definition of small business for unfair dismissal purposes.

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On 25 November 2008, Workplace Relations Minister, Julia Gillard, introduced into Parliament the awaited Fair Work Bill 2008. Earlier this year, transitional legislation was introduced, removing AWAs, introducing a "no disadvantage test" for agreements and beginning the award modernisation process.

The new Fair Work Bill seeks to implement the remaining changes save for a further transitional and consequential changes bill which is to be introduced next year that will "explain how existing employers and employees move to the new Forward with Fairness arrangements".

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Circumstances may arise in which the employment of your employees need to be terminated. Termination attracts various legal obligations of which employers ought to be mindful in order to avoid or minimise litigious repercussions.

From 1 July next year, the Federal Government's changes to the Work Choices unfair dismissal laws will take effect, which will in turn alter the current legislative termination landscape.

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Directors and managers have onerous obligations and personal liability under occupational health and safety laws. Different provisions apply across the country however, regardless of where the workplace activities are being undertaken, the obligations and duties on directors and managers are particularly onerous.

In all jurisdictions except for New South Wales and Queensland, the primary obligation requires an employer to take all reasonable and/or practicable steps to ensure or provide a safe working environment or to protect the health and safety at work of employees.

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The Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008 was tabled in parliament on 13 February 2008. This Bill is an amendment to the Workplace Relations Act 1996, effectively making a number of changes to the framework for workplace agreements.

The amendments proposed by the Bill are intended to give effect to the Government’s election commitments and begin the transition to a new workplace relations system.

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The incoming Rudd Government has announced that a transition bill addressing a ban on new AWAs, defining its 10 minimum employment standards and award simplification process will be introduced in the first sitting of the new parliament next year, with legislation for Labor's full workplace policy to become effective from 1 January 2010, to be later introduced. The first sitting day next year for both houses is 26 February 2008.

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A recent decision in the Federal Court highlights the importance of the content of company policy documents provided to employees and the need to ensure compliance with the processes and standards set out in such policy documents.

We recommend you carefully consider whether the terms of any policies or procedures that provide benefits to employees, or impose obligations on your business, are intended to be contractually binding on both you and your employees. It may be appropriate, for example, to clearly distinguish between “aspirational” statements and clear directions you expect employees to follow, or clear procedures that employees can reasonably expect your business to follow.

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On 4 July 2007, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, The Hon. Joe Hockey MP, released the Workplace Relations Fact Sheet following the introduction of the Fairness Test under the Workplace Relations Amendment (A Stronger Safety Net) Act, 2007 on 28 June 2007.

The Fact Sheet contains information on employee entitlements, including the Australian Fair Pay and Conditions Standard, support services and basic protections for working Australians. It also provides an overview of the Fairness Test.

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