Workplace relations changes don’t go far enough

28 November 2022

Pressure from employers and the crossbench has forced the government to make a number of changes to its workplace relations proposal but huge risks remain to creating a new untested, untrialed and unproven multi-employer bargaining model, Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“This is a huge economic risk and there is no evidence multi-employer bargaining will lift wages. In fact, we remain concerned that this fundamentally flawed bill could make things much worse.

“The way to deliver higher pay is by working smarter, creating new jobs and building new industries but multi-employer bargaining risks seeing these opportunities flow overseas, locked out of Australia by rigid and old-fashioned work practices.

“Senators have listened to some concerns from businesses and we welcome changes, but the devil is in the detail. It is disappointing that legislation that will take Australian workers and business backwards is now likely to pass.

“The most prudent course of action would have been to split this legislation. That would mean action for low paid workers now and give businesses and the parliament the time to understand the significant impact of multi-employer bargaining.

“This is the biggest change to our workplace laws in 20 years, it deserves proper scrutiny.

“Our fundamental concern remains, this legislation risks destroying the single enterprise bargaining system – with a proven track record of delivering higher wages and better conditions – to be replaced with an untested, unproven model that could send workers backwards.

“We welcome changes that respond to some of our concerns, including a longer grace period for those that already bargain, a higher threshold for small businesses and axing the unfair union veto on agreements being put to workers.

“In particular, we welcome senator Pocock’s response to our calls for a review of modern awards because that’s the system that can actually deliver higher pay in feminised, low-paid workforces and for vulnerable workers.

“An extension of the ‘grace period’ for businesses who already bargain is welcome, but the risk remains that brinksmanship and ambit claims will used to run down the clock and rope businesses in.

“For the big and small businesses that get swept up in this system there remains incredible complexity around the exit path for employers once they are roped in, and that means workers will wait for pay rises for months or years while unions and lawyers bicker.

“It’s good news that some small businesses will be excluded but those with more 20 employees simply won’t have the resources or the expertise to manage this new, highly complex system dominated by lawyers and unions.

“The government’s own Regulatory Impact Statement expects that small businesses will have to spend more than $14,000 on consultants to help them navigate this mess of red tape while medium sized businesses are likely to pay $75,000.

“A new ‘reasonable comparability’ test for the single interest multi-employer bargaining stream does not solve the fact that large competitors may be forced to bargain together.  This is bad for workers, bad for businesses and bad for the country. 

“We do not believe it is in the public interest for big competitors with huge market power to be forced to bargain together.

“The extraordinary possibility that two competitors with huge market power should set pay and conditions together is anti-competitive, bad for small businesses and terrible for wages.

“At a time of global economic uncertainty, skyrocketing inflation and a global cost of living crisis, Australia has almost full employment and wages are beginning to strengthen, why are we taking this risk?”


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