Employment Relations: 2021 Year in Review
As 2021 draws to a close, our National Employment Relations team reflects on the year, the industry trends, and significant matters, whilst looking forward to what the next 12 months has in store.
Continuing from last year, the Employment Relations team continues to deal with a new set of issues, navigating the ever changing legal landscape for employers created by the pandemic.
Tim Lange – Practice Team leader
2021 has been a significant year for legislative change and important case law developments at a federal level and state level.
Many businesses faced and continue to face a difficult question as to whether they should require staff to be vaccinated, and to otherwise ensure that they comply with public health orders and regulations regarding mandatory vaccination requirements. The issue of addressing, implementing and communicating a vaccination policy will continue to cause businesses stress as we move into 2022. Read more about putting mandatory vaccinations to the test here.
Pandemic related workforce management issues look likely to continue to loom large in 2022, particularly as restrictions continue to change in response to the ongoing volatility caused by new and emerging public health risks.
The High Court’s decision in Workpac v Rossato was a significant case for 2021 and a game-changer for contractual interpretation of employment and independent contractor arrangements. The ruling sheds important light not just on who can be classed as a casual employee, but on how other disputes about work status should be resolved.
Rossato may have implications for two further cases (Jamsek and Personnel Contracting) argued before the High Court on 31 August and 1 September, respectively with their judgments outstanding. Those cases involve the distinction between employment and independent contracting, not to mention the classification of workers in the gig economy. Listen to Emily Haar and Professor Andrew Stewart discuss the decision and its implications on Piper Alderman’s Employment Law for the Time Poor here or read Ben Motro’s article on the topic here. Regardless of what the High Court concludes in these ongoing cases, 2022 will be an opportune time for organisations to review and update their terms of engagement for independent contractors.
The Fair Work Commission commenced a substantial review of casual employee provisions in Modern Awards. This review was mandated by the amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) passed in March 2021, and is focused on aligning casual employment terms in Modern Awards with the new framework for casual employment under the FW Act. Read more about the Omnibus Bill here. Employers will need to continue to appropriately manage their casual workforce, and comply with the amendments to the National Employment Standards, including offers of conversion to permanent employment in some cases.
With a Federal Election to be held in the first half of 2022, organisations will need to understand how any proposed new industrial-relations policies will impact on their workforce planning. We are also likely to see increases in organisations re-commencing enterprise bargaining after a hiatus during the first years of the pandemic.
In 2021, a number of new appointments and promotions were made across the Employment Relations team nationally, as the firm continues to strengthen our service to clients.
Most significantly, two new partners joined the team. Joe Murphy joined the Employment Relations team in Sydney, with over 20 years’ experience specialising in workplace relations. Shane Entriken also joined the national team with the opening of our Perth office, with decades of experience in private practice and as a business executive, having held a number of senior roles across different commodities in the global mining and energy sector.
Emily Slaytor joined the team in Adelaide as a Special Counsel in November and Zoe McQuillan came on-board as a Senior Associate in the Sydney team in October.
We are also delighted to announce the promotion of our long-standing team member, Emily Haar to the partnership from 1 January 2022.
Throughout the year, we continued to represent and advise our clients across various industries and geographies. Read more client success stories below.
Piper Alderman is defending an employment class action on behalf of Shahin Enterprises Pty Ltd, a company within the Peregrine Corporation.
Medlab Clinical Limited
Piper Alderman acted for Medlab Clinical Limited, a publicly listed biotechnology company, in relation to the defence of a general protections claim which originated in the Fair Work Commission, and which concluded (successfully for our client) before the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission.
Piper Alderman acted for Ventia in a complex underpayment (‘wage theft’) claim brought by a major Australian trade union, the Electrical Trades Union (ETU). The claim relied on a key provision in a ‘pattern’ collective agreement that (through various agreement in the same terms) applies to almost all major electrical contracting employers in Victoria.
Across our national Employment Relations practice team we have received a number of individual and team accolades this year. We thank our clients and colleagues for their ongoing support. See the list of recognised lawyers for The Legal 500 Asia Pacific, 2021 edition and The Best Lawyers in Australia, 2022 edition.
Business Development activities
Our nationally recognised Employment Relations team actively produces a range of content including insights, podcasts and case studies as well as a strong focus on client facing events including in-person events, webinars and workplace training sessions.
Over the year, the team produced 6 episodes of their podcast series ‘Employment Law for the Time Poor’ covering a range of topical issues and published 15 timely insights on key legislation and sector trends.
As part of the firm’s commitment to thought leadership events, the Employment Relations team nationally collaborated to produce the National Employment Relations Seminar Series with a range of in-person and hybrid events. In addition to the popular series, which attracted over 3,000 attendees at our national webinars throughout the year, the team offered a series of bespoke workplace training sessions.
We look forward to continuing to develop insights and events in 2022 for our clients.