Industrial relations changes a blow to Australia’s prosperity

08 February 2024

The Government’s workplace relations legislation, which has passed the Senate, is anti-business and will impact the prosperity of all Australians by adding costs and complexity for employers and costing jobs, according to the Business Council. 

BCA Chief Executive Bran Black said changes secured by the crossbench, the Opposition, the BCA and other employer groups made a bad bill slightly less bad.

“We remain opposed to the Bill as a whole because it adds complexity, cost and red tape at the worst possible time, making it harder to do business and hire staff, and negatively impacting jobs and our economy.

“The Government’s anti-business industrial relations policies have united Australia’s major employer groups to work together and we will continue to advocate against policies that negatively impact businesses and workers, and which ultimately drive down our prosperity.

“The number one intergenerational challenge we have is our declining competitiveness and productivity, and so it’s time we all - government, business, unions and communities - worked together on policies that take us forwards, rather than continue pursuing policies that set us back.”

Mr Black said the BCA didn’t believe the case for broadscale changes to casual employment had been made, however the significant amendments secured were a less challenging outcome for 2.7 million casual employees and the businesses that employ them than what was originally planned.

“Securing a single conversion for casual employment after 6 months, rather than the duplication that was proposed, and allowing a business to decline permanent employment on fair and reasonable grounds is a less concerning outcome than what was first put on the table.”

Mr Black said the last minute addition without consultation of the ‘right to disconnect’ was disappointing and would present new challenges in the workplace.

“Everyone deserves to be able to switch off at home, though it’s really important to get the balance right here given people are now wanting more flexibility and to work different hours in different ways.

“There has to be give and take - some employees value the ability to leave work early or arrive a little later than others with the understanding that they work at other times, so it’s about balance.

"As a result of rushing this legislation with no consultation, the Government has made the grave error of criminalising companies, and this just proves the problem of ramming through policy that no one has seen. We expect the Government to correct this error in the House of Representatives.”

Mr Black said he was deeply concerned that the Greens’ policy on intractable bargaining remained in the legislation because it would cause significant economic damage.

“The changes to intractable bargaining give a green light to unions to shut down businesses and our economy by incentivising them to drag out bargaining without agreement, and even the Victorian Labor Treasurer wanted them changed.

“The clause-by-clause change upends decades of good faith bargaining between unions and businesses where a package of better terms and conditions could be negotiated to deliver shared benefits to both employers and employees and higher living standards for all Australians.

“These changes will fuel inflation and risk taking our country back to the 1970s and 80s, when crippling strike action destroyed business, jobs were lost and the economy ground to a halt.”

Mr Black said some union power had been curbed in the amended legislation, but businesses were still concerned.

“The changes that have been secured provide stronger guardrails around union rights to enter business unannounced but we remain concerned this policy will lead to more altercations between employers and unions.”

Mr Black said industry agreed on the need for a range of minimum standards for gig workers however the Government’s further changes would result in higher costs for consumers.

“The approach taken by the Government is very broad and risks capturing many gig workers, making them employee-like and applying unclear standards that we fear will add unnecessary cost to consumers for the services they enjoy everyday.”

Mr Black said the BCA, along with all major employers didn’t believe inserting a definition of employment into the Act was necessary.

“This change will make it so much harder for thousands of tradies to be their own boss and that’s bad for productivity.

“Even with the new amendment including a high-income exemption and an option for people not to become employees, overall the Government has just made it significantly harder for thousands of tradies and people who just want to be their own boss.”


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