Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Calls for more time to consult on IR reform

Labor’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill was introduced to parliament by Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke yesterday, prompting calls of for more consultation and scrutiny from industry bodies.

The Bill will see significant changes to contractual matters (such as pay secrecy and fixed-term contracts), sexual harassment, bargaining, enterprise agreements, and industrial action generally. This is the first of two industrial relations reform bills expected to be introduced by the Government in the near term.

The Labor Party and Greens combined to vote down a proposal by Senate crossbenchers to allow a Senate Committee until early next year to consider the implications of the Bill. As a result, the entire consultation process around the laws must be completed in just three weeks.

More time needed

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said some aspects of the government’s reforms will benefit employers and employees alike, but more time is needed to understand the proposed changes and their impacts on business.

“Coming out of the Jobs and Skills Summit less than two months ago, there was a real sense of common purpose and goodwill about the path forward. We obviously expected some changes to industrial relations policy as a result of the change in government and the summit, but the scope of reform outlined in the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill is much more extensive than we’d expected,” Mr Zahra said.

“We are extremely disappointed that the government has set aside less than three weeks to consult with business on some of the most significant changes to industrial relations in a decade,” Mr Zahra said.

Rushed changes undermine confidence

The Franchise Council of Australia (FCA) has criticised the “rushed manner” in which the Federal Government has driven its “pro-union” workplace reforms.

“The workplace legislation which the government introduced … after scant consultation with the business community was not a display of responsible leadership and risks undermining the confidence of businesses across Australia,” said Mary Aldred, CEO of the Franchise Council of Australia.
Given the implications of this Bill on our economy, employers and employees, she adds, the legislative process should not be rushed.

“In its current form, this legislation will likely have a widespread and detrimental impact on small businesses, which could result in staff reductions,” she said.

The FCA is concerned that the new IR framework could see small businesses dragged into “a complex system dominated by unions and lawyers”, to the detriment of business owners and employees.

“We are committed to working constructively and in good faith with the government, crossbench and broader business community on ways to improve the legislation,” Ms Aldred said.

Extensive reforms a concern

The ARA has expressed support for some aspects for the Bill, however notes others are a “real concern”.

“We are supportive of the need to drive sustainable wages growth and create more secure jobs,” Mr Zahra said. “Some aspects of the Bill help deliver on these goals, but other reforms outlined for the first time [yesterday] will have a significant impact right across the retail community, without delivering benefits for employees.”

He says the ARA supports changes announced about the Better-Off Overall Test and gender-based pay equity, however “the reforms that extend access to multi-employer bargaining are a real concern for our members”.

“For our smaller members, many of whom are still recovering from two years of disruption, they don’t have the resources to work through a costly and time-consuming bargaining process with other employers and multiple employee representatives,” Mr Zahra said.

“And we don’t believe that the prospect of bringing our larger members, and some of the country’s largest employers, all to the same bargaining table is fit-for-purpose or workable in the real world,” Mr Zahra said.

National Retail Association Interim CEO Lindsay Carroll said the proposed reforms will have very widespread and detrimental impacts on employers, which will almost certainly result in business owners reducing their staff or cutting back hours.

“The only reason to rush the passage of the Bill with such haste would be to avoid proper scrutiny and debate over the likely impacts of these changes,” she said.

“If the Government was confident in the merits of its reforms, it would not be afraid to answer questions and hear the concerns of employers.”

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