The year in review – key HR changes in 2017

The ongoing disruption of traditional business and industry by new technology means the rate of change within the workplace is rapid.

While arguably less enticing than the release of the new iPhone, less stressful than a lower than expected turnover or less distracting than the resignation of a valued employee, there have been four key changes that have affected human resources in 2017 that every business owner should know about.

Thankfully WCA Solutions has compiled this list for you, as a one-stop shop of what has happened in the world of HR this year. For more information on any of these topics or to find out more about how they might affect you then don’t hesitate to call the team on +61 8 9383 3293.

1. Farewell to the 457 visa

As of March 2018, the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa – commonly known as the 457 visa – will be abolished. While the 457 will be replaced by the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa, there will be a few key changes:

216 occupations that were covered by 457 won’t be covered by the TSS;

There will be two streams of the TSS – a short term (2 year) option that covers 268 occupations and a medium term (4 year) option that covers 167 different types of work;

The occupations most likely to be affected include information technology, professional services, tourism and hospitality.

2. Changes to cashing out excessive annual leave 

Large amounts of accrued leave can be a headache and a liability for businesses. Employees who have accrued more than four weeks’ annual leave may now be eligible to exchange some of their leave for a cash payment. Both you and your employee have to agree in writing and the maximum amount of leave that can be cashed out is 2 weeks in any 12-month period. Also, cashing out of leave can’t reduce an employee’s annual leave balance to less than four weeks. This change applies to most employees covered by a Modern Award under the national workplace relations system.

3. The Fair Work Ombudsman cracks down on workplace breaches

In 2016 Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James made a speech to HR managers warning of their personal liability if their workplace breached laws. Just over a year later new laws were introduced to protect vulnerable workers – particularly around underpayment and cashback schemes. A key change is that franchisors can now be liable for workplace breaches undertaken by a franchisee. Harsher penalties are also in place for employers who deliberately flout the minimum wage.

4. Increase to the minimum wage

Speaking of the minimum wage, this year also saw a 3.3% increase to the minimum wage, effective 1 July 2017. The increase means the minimum wage is now $18.29 an hour, up from $17.70, which is the equivalent of $694.90 per week. The rise in the minimum wage came after the high-income threshold increased from 138,900 to 142,000 (excluding superannuation) as of 1 July. The high-income threshold refers to the highest salary an employee can earn and still be protected from unfair dismissal. Employers may choose to review salary packages close to the threshold. To check which modern award applies to your business visit fairwork.gov.au.

5. Changes to penalty rates for five different industries

Arguably the most controversial of changes this year was the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates for workers across five different industries. Since 1 July certain penalty rates within the hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy awards have changed. Permanent and casual employees working on Sundays, public holidays, evenings and after midnight were all affected by the changes, which were disputed by unions. Most recently, the ACTU is seeking legal advice on the validity of the decision after politicians who backed the changes were disqualified by the High Court for having dual citizenships. Stay tuned for more on this divisive topic.