Positive steps on workplace reform but more to do

08 November 2022

We welcome the government’s willingness to make amendments that help minimise some of the worst unintended consequences of proposed workplace relations changes, Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“It’s good that the government has listened to some of businesses’ major concerns and acted on them, and we welcome the Minister’s acknowledgment that further changes will be required.

Single enterprise bargaining

“Changes that give those who already bargain or have a history of bargaining will help let people get on with creating the conditions for higher wages and getting pay into workers’ pockets faster.

“We continue to call for a longer ‘grace period’ and an even smoother pathway for those that already are bargaining that recognises that negotiations for some of the best agreements can take upwards of 18 months.

“Moves to boost the ability of workplaces that already bargain to continue doing it, will help to make the government’s hard-won improvements to the BOOT worthwhile but don’t go far enough to protect single enterprise bargaining.

Multi-employer bargaining

“Businesses remain deeply concerned that the case has not been made for the expansion of multi-employer bargaining beyond the low paid stream.

“We welcome changes that keep bargaining democratic by ensuring every individual workplace would need to vote in favour of joining an agreement or taking industrial action.

“We are concerned that a proposed amendment would enable unions veto power over employers providing their workers with a proposed multi-employer agreement to be considered for a vote.

“The ‘common interest test’ for multi-employer bargaining is too broad and does not mitigate the risk of big competitors being forced to bargain together. That’s bad for wages, bad for competition and bad for consumers.

“This complexity will be a huge challenge for everyone in the system but particularly for small businesses, so we continue to call for businesses with fewer than 100 employees to be excluded. 

“Australians can’t afford a system that sees them waiting months for a pay rise while unions, lawyers and businesses squabble over who can even be at the negotiating table before they even get to discussing conditions and wages.

“Even with the government’s proposed amendments, we run the risk that critical industries like mining, energy or our ports could be swept up in paralysing industry wide action that leaves supermarket shelves bare, and lives disrupted.

“Why should industries that already pay higher wages and bargain effectively be included in changes designed to lift the wages of low income earners? 

“The objective of the Jobs and Skills Summit was to make the bargaining process simpler, but these this bill would make the system far more complex.   

“Unless dramatic changes are made to this element of the bill we run the risk of bogging the system down, delaying wage increases and opening the door to kind of widespread industrial action many in the union movement have called for.

Economic risks and the path forward

“To minimise these risks we’ll continue working with the government and the Senate to secure changes, including a higher small business threshold and an approach that excludes industries that already bargain and pay higher wages like the mining sector.

“As the Fair Work Commission demonstrated last week, low-paid Australians would be better off if we focussed reform efforts on the awards system. These decisions will require careful reform to fund but they make it clear that our system can deliver wage rises across whole sectors without increasing complexity.

“A simpler and better awards system along with a careful and considered Commission is the fastest way to deliver higher wages to hundreds of thousands of people.

“This is a complex set of reforms and we recognise that the government is working across multiple stakeholders to find agreement but we must get it right.

“We’re ready to work across the parliament and with government to ensure that this change doesn’t create unintended consequences that punish Australians.”


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