Sector scores Senate win on fixed contracts

Posted on 09 Jul 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Win celebrate excited

Not-for-profits, charities and community groups have scored a significant win, with the federal government bowing to pressure and agreeing to review the impact of its workplace legislation on sector organisations that rely on fixed-term contracts.

A key Fair Work Act amendment that became law in December 2023, limits the length of fixed-term contracts and introduces new rules governing when they can be used.

While the changes were designed to address misuse of fixed-term contracts and increase job security for workers, sector organisations feared they would be unable to align employment and funding contracts.

After lobbying led by the Community Council for Australia (CCA) and Opposition Charities spokesperson Senator Dean Smith, the government advised in the Senate last week that it would draft exceptions to be included in the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs Better Pay) Act 2022 that recognised the importance of short-term contracts in the NFPs sector.

The move headed off a motion flagged by Senator Smith calling for a standing committee to conduct a one-day inquiry into the impact of the new workplace legislation on charities. 

The motion was due to be debated the same day the government agreed to amend its legislation in favour of the sector.

Senator Smith said it was disappointing that the Albanese Government had taken so long to respond to the very real concerns of the sector, despite long running attempts to put the issue on the agenda.

“The decision is a win for Australian charities and a powerful demonstration of the capacity of the Senate to force the Government to act,” he said.

“The Government is now bound to deal with these issues concerning its legislation as a priority.”

Senator Smith said a Senate inquiry continued to be an option if the sector was not satisfied with the Government’s response.

“The decision is a win for Australian charities and a powerful demonstration of the capacity of the Senate to force the Government to act.”
Opposition Charities spokesperson Senator Dean Smith.

In response to the motion scheduled to be tabled in the Senate for an inquiry, Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said the Government had taken on board feedback raised by employers and the CCA about the impact of the legislation on the sector.

She said the Government also recognised the significant contribution charities and NFPs made to communities across the nation, including as an employer of tens of thousands of Australians. 

Opposition Charities spokesperson Senator Dean Smith.

“The Albanese Government is committed to providing job security for Australian workers; we do not want to see people placed on rolling fixed term contracts when their job could be an ongoing position,” said Ms Gallagher.

“However, we recognise in some circumstances - such as non-ongoing funding - a fixed term contract may be appropriate. A range of exceptions in Secure Jobs Better Pay are intended to address these situations.”

The CCA said while its members – which number more than 70 organisations ranging from the Australian Conservation Foundation to the Brotherhood of St Laurence – overwhelmingly supported the intent of the Governments Secure Jobs, Better Pay package, the changes had raised fears the new contracting laws would increase overhead costs and negatively affect service delivery for charities and NFPs that are already under pressure.

CCA CEO David Crosbie worked closely behind the scenes with Senator Smith and others to have the sectors fixed'-term contracting concerns addressed and to devise a sector-specific solution to amend the legislation.

“Charities want to be employers of choice - we know our most valuable assets are the remarkable people working in our sector,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the way existing workplace laws operate, they can force experienced staff out of the sector by not allowing multiple contracts aligned to funding cycles.”

Mr Crosbie said the CCA was pleased the Government had committed to addressing the situation to ensure workplace laws take into account how charities were actually funded.

“We are committed to ensuring charities can continue to do the vital work they do for the Australian community.”

More information

Workplace legislation: for the community sector, it’s just not working

NFP sector pushes back on fixed-term contracting changes

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