Australia can’t afford workplace relations own goal

27 October 2022

In its current form the multi-employer bargaining legislation unveiled today won’t solve Australia’s wages problem and risks tipping our economy over the edge, Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“We want Australians to earn more and we want to sustain wages growth alongside record low unemployment. Australians deserve more money in their pockets, but multi-employer bargaining is not a plan to do it.

“We welcome the minister’s acknowledgment that substantial amendments will be needed to avoid the worst unintended consequences, we expect this process to be comprehensive and the government to act in good faith.

“We’re pleased that we have brought the government back to the negotiating table on critical changes to make this legislation at least workable.

“It’s good news that the government has committed to amendments to protect the primacy of single enterprise bargaining; provide for democratic bargaining processes in each workplace; and prevent anti-competitive conduct between competing businesses.

“If the government is intent on making these sweeping changes, at the very least these amendments must be included.

“Changes to fix the Better Off Overall Test are a welcome boost to single enterprise bargaining, this is crucial because workers on enterprise agreements get paid $120 a day more.

“But while single enterprise bargaining has a proven track record of driving innovation, making businesses more successful and leaving workers better off, we remain concerned that multi-employer bargaining does not.

“The key to getting wages moving is to revive the single enterprise bargaining system.

“We are worried that as currently proposed the new multi-employer bargaining streams will leave workers waiting longer for pay increase while unions and lawyers squabble over who can even be at the table.

“We are deeply concerned that the new system could see small businesses swept up in a complex system dominated by unions and lawyers, currently one large workplace could vote to pull smaller workplaces into an agreement.

“There is also a significant risk that this bill would see large competitors forced into lowest common denominator wage settings and it could see an end to the enterprise bargaining system that works.

“Some sections of the union movement have called for the re-introduction of industry-wide strikes, which would now be possible under the bill. These would cripple supply chains, leave supermarket shelves empty, commuters unable to get to work and lives disrupted.

“And, we have deep reservations about the impact multi-employer bargaining that sees large competitors forced to sit down and bargain together because it risks a lowest common denominator approach to wages.

“It is critical that these issues are addressed, business will engage constructively and in good faith with the government and crossbench to make sure Australia doesn’t score a crippling own goal.

“Australians deserve a system that delivers higher wages and better jobs, with diverse businesses that can innovate, deliver the best services and products and grow the economy.

“This will not achieve those outcomes, instead we are staring down the barrel of a more complex system that runs the risk of stifling innovation and fossilising the economy.”


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