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What are the real HR trends of 2019?

This year promises more than a few shake ups, so here are HR trends you should be on the lookout for.

Predictions are always hazardous, and are too often either guesswork or an exercise in redundant list-making. In 2018 HRM tried to buck against guesswork by analysing what was and wasn’t a trend. But this year the aim is to only hone in on what is likely to happen.

1. Change of government

At some point this year, Australia will have a Federal election, and there’s a widespread consensus that Labor is likely to win. So while a lot could happen between now and whenever the government calls for an election, it is worth looking at what Labor has flagged as priorities in the industrial relations space.

  • The party has said it will reverse the reduction in penalty rates for hospitality and retail workers. This is one of the more firm election promises – Labor wants it to happen within the first 100 days of an election win.
  • According to Shorten, a Labor government will “legislate to ensure that workers employed through a labour hire company will receive the same pay and conditions as people employed directly”. Labor has said it will consult with stakeholders about the exact nature of any legislation and transitional arrangements.
  • The party will look to increase penalties for deliberate underpayment, and “seek views” regarding the appropriateness of criminalising the offence.
  • Labor has said it will try to clarify the position of permanent casual workers (for why this is an issue, see our article on Workpac vs Skene).
  • Brendan O’Connor, the shadow minister for employment and workplace relations, told parliament his party will take on sham contracting and suggested this will involve crafting legislation that changes the gig economy. “While there are undoubtedly benefits to the gig economy and new forms of work organisation, if a business model can only succeed on the basis of undermining workers’ rights and avoiding workers entitlements, that is not a model Labor supports.”
  • A more specific policy around sham contracting put forward by O’Connor was preventing so called “no-stake” enterprise agreements. “Labor will legislate to make clear that the workers who vote on an agreement must be broadly representative of the workers who may ultimately be covered by the agreement,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. This proposed law would make it so a wages agreement made in one location can’t cover workers in a very different location. It would also allow workers and unions to re-negotiate contracts that currently resemble that description.
  • Labor has promised it will abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Just in case you wanted to keep track: the industry watchdog was established in 2005 by John Howard, abolished in 2012 by Julia Gillard, then re-established in 2016 by Malcolm Turnbull.

Shorten has also signaled that his government would be open to an ACTU push for extending industry-wide bargaining. This would obviously be a huge change, but it’s not certain they’ll go through with it, and there’s no clear policy yet.

At the very least, we should expect discussion around enterprise bargaining. Labor is framing a lot of IR changes as a response to Australia’s real wage stagnation. In Shorten’s own words: “There is no doubt in my mind, that in the last few years in particular, a lot of the rules about enterprise bargaining are creating one-sided outcomes and we are seeing wages growth stagnant.”

We might also see bipartisan workplace changes. The Coalition already made up to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave part of the National Employment Standards, so they may be willing to support some version of Labor’s push for 10 days of paid leave.

When it comes to the gender pay gap, there is a mixture of agreement and disagreement between the two major parties. So again, there might be some bipartisan measure in this space. Possibly to do with organisational transparency.

The Coalition has not yet flagged any major IR promises ahead of the election (though it has come out strongly against some Labor promises), so it’s not clear there would be any significant changes from their current agenda should they remain in power.

2. Gig economy classification

Even absent legislative moves, we should expect further litigation over whether certain gig workers are contractors or employees. While the Fair Work Commission decision that a Foodora worker was an employee might have got the most headlines last year, we shouldn’t forget there were decisions that went the other way.

There should be a flow on effect to parliament, as people react to legal decisions and call for more clarity over a type of work that is now many years old.

3. Sexual harassment

The issue of workplace sexual harassment didn’t go away in 2018, but nor did it unfold as we might have expected. There is evidence that sexual harassment complaints increased, and that victims were more likely to speak up. (From an HR perspective, it’s worthwhile looking into what makes for effective sexual harassment training and what role the people department should play in its organisation’s ethics.)

One trend we’re seeing is a more sophisticated discussion about the nature of workplace sexual harassment.

For instance, there’s more talk about what consent means in the face of power differences. The example has been used before, but in the nineties there were people who thought that Monica Lewinsky’s relationship with Bill Clinton fell outside the bounds of consent – the power difference between the US president and a 21 year old intern was too great. But society at large, and Lewinsky herself, argued such power differentials didn’t impact consent.

Now society at large (and Lewinsky) are not so certain.

In terms of what we’ll see this year, the national inquiry announced midway through last year will continue (even after it hit the road bump of confidentiality agreements). The submission deadline for the inquiry has been extended until the end of February. It will be interesting to see what recommendations the inquiry eventually makes. Since the inquiry is something of a world first, other nations will be watching too.

4. Technology trends

As is true for every sector, the pace of technological change will continue to modify how HR works. But there are couple of things that are worth paying attention to:

  • There’s been talk about how office messaging software, like Slack, will replace email. But it’s pretty clear that we’re headed towards integration of the two technologies instead. In October last year Slack acquired Astro – which has an email client optimised through machine learning. So one of the most prominent workplace chat providers is conceding that email will continue to have its uses.
  • It seems obvious, but most software is being improved by machine learning and/or AI. We see this continually in consumer products, so why should we expect anything different from work products? See our guide for how machine learning works and how it’s already impacting HR.
  • As it becomes more affordable and customisable, more organisations will improve their HR technology to include mobile and cloud functionality, and real-time employee data (again, obvious, but worth pointing out).

On this, we’re going to see more innovative approaches to people analytics. New technology means innovation in what we capture – from brain signals to tenor of voice – not just how we analyse and use data.

In an upcoming magazine and online story, we have a breakdown of cutting edge people analytics penned by Susan Entwisle, assistant vice president and head of digital engineering at Cognizant APAC, and member of AHRI’s HR Technology Advisory Panel.

She points out that when we think of gathering people data we face concerns not just around privacy but also security. “Gartner have said that over 90 per cent of vulnerabilities are in the application layer. Think of the Facebook Cambridge Analytics scandal that alarmed so many. [In that scandal] someone was basically screen-grabbing Facebook’s data and then using it for an entirely different purpose – they’re not so much hacking the data, as gathering the data for themselves.”

So HR professionals developing awareness of the privacy and security implications of any workplace software they have oversight over will become a useful capability.

There’s no doubt a lot of stuff I’ve missed, so I’m eager to hear from you. Feel free to post in the comments section about trends that you’ll be keeping an eye on in 2019.

Have an HR question? Access online HR resource AHRI:ASSIST for guidelines, information sheets and policy templates on different HR issues.

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Great article! In particular, heads up on upcoming government changes if Labor party wins. Labor has said that it will try to clarify the position of permanent casual workers, on the same note, the industry that I work in, which is Social Community Home Care & Disability services Industry, the law has already been enforced about Casual employee conversion to permanent. I.e. if a casual employee is employed on a casual basis on a regular and systematic basis for 12 months they will be assessed to determine if their employment falls under permanent category. This change will bring a good… Read more »


To my mind it seems that HR priorities in the next 12 months will also be influenced by a combination of (i) changing perceptions of business culture in Australia – likely to be crystallised in outcomes from the Banking Royal Commission; (ii) the evolving structural nature of jobs in the new economy, and; (iii) increasing public scrutiny of the social responsibility of international supply chains conducted by Australian companies. While the social, legal and political pressures arising from these factors may not cause direct impacts for HR in 2019, the level of public awareness displayed in Australia in the next… Read more »

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