A key building industry lobby group has slammed proposed changes to workplace laws in Australia, arguing that new laws would be detrimental to employment, business and the economy.
Master Builders Australia says the government’s Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 is beset with problems.
“At a time where builders and small sub-contractors are already struggling with a long list of economic pressures, including material supply and labour shortages, this Bill will only make things worse and risks undermining national economic prosperity and future job creation,” Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said.
“Entrenching industry-wide pattern deals and opening the door for economy-wide strike action is the exact opposite of what we need to support a modern and flexible economy.
“This Bill does nothing to secure jobs or provide better pay in the medium to long term and goes against the very fabric of traditional Labor industrial relations policies with former Prime Ministers Keating, Rudd and Gillard all lauding the importance of enterprise bargaining at the individual level as a key driver of productivity.”
Introduced into Parliament on October 27, the Bill makes changes across 27 areas of workplace relations.
A key part of the changes involves an expansion of three current streams for multi-employer bargaining – enterprise agreements that apply to more than one employer and their relevant employees, and in some cases one or more unions.
These types of agreements typically occur within an industry that has multiple large employers or organisations performing the same types of work.
Whilst the legislation would not introduce new streams of multi-employer bargaining, it seeks to reform arrangements to existing scheme easier for workers and employers to access.
Among a wide-range of matters, other features of the Bill include:
- Abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Registered Organisations Commission.
- Amending the objectives of the Fair Work Act to include promotion of job security and gender equity into the Act’s aims.
- Amending the ‘better off overall’ test
- Restricting fixed-term contracts to a maximum of two years; and
- Expanding the circumstances in which employees can request flexible work arrangements to include situations which involve family or domestic violence.
Largely speaking, the push to expand multi-employer bargaining represents an attempt by the Labor Government with the support to unions to empower workers to generate higher wage increases.
In his speech accompanying the Bill, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said that the changes would help to deliver ‘more equitable and inclusive wage outcomes for more Australians’.
(Media reports suggest that Burke is working to tweak the plan to assuage employer concerns.)
Some within the small business community support the move.
For instance, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia argue that the move to make multi-employer bargaining streams more accessible to help small businesses – many of whom it says have been locked out of enterprise bargaining on account of the cost and complexity involved with undertaking enterprise bargaining as a single employer.
However, Wawn says the Bill will lock employers into deals to which they did not agree and open the door for widespread industrial action and undo decades of workplace relations progress.
“For almost half a decade our entire industrial relations system has aimed to provide a safety net of minimum conditions and entrusted workers and employers to negotiate working conditions that suit their own specific needs,” she said.
“This Bill completely undoes this progress and will force workplaces to cop deals they don’t want and subject workers and business to industry-wide industrial action they don’t support.
“Only workers and employers know what is good for them and their business, and they shouldn’t be at the mercy of being dictated to by big unions.”
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