Leading Industry Groups Stand Behind Post-Pandemic Workplace Reforms

March 15, 2021 Updated: March 16, 2021

CEOs from leading Australian industry groups are pushing for the Senate to approve contentious industrial relations laws this week, arguing there is no “valid reason” for the Bill to be delayed.

“The certainty that these reforms will deliver is needed urgently to boost confidence, investment, and job creation to complete the recovery and help put the economy on track to generate higher incomes and sustained growth in the future,” a joint statement representing various groups across the retail, rural, business, and construction sectors said.

“A failure to vote on the Bill will increase uncertainty and stifle business confidence at the worst possible time–just before the JobKeeper scheme ends and as businesses are making critically important decisions on whether to retain staff.”

According to the statement, over 182,000 fewer Australians were employed in February than last year, and overall Gross Domestic Product during the December Quarter was 1.1 percent lower than the previous year.

After passing the Lower House, the government must now negotiate with the Senate crossbench to achieve the Bill’s passage.

The Senate Education and Employment Committee recommended Parliament pass the contentious Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Bill 2020, after spending three months examining 130 submissions from various stakeholders.

That followed a nine-month consultation process involving industry groups and union representatives.

The Omnibus Bill was introduced to aid Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery by streamlining workplace laws, giving business owners more flexibility in hiring and paying employees.

Under the proposed law, employers can also avoid converting a casual worker to part-time or full time if they can prove there are “reasonable business grounds” not to do so.

Further, the Omnibus Bill allows employers to increase work hours for part-time employees without overtime premiums.

To encourage investment, the Bill puts a stay on negotiating new work conditions over an eight-year period for Greenfields Agreements, covering major projects valued at over $500 million or projects worth more than $250 million if it is deemed of national or regional employment significance by the minister.

The most contentious aspect of the Bill was to offer companies affected by COVID-19 a means to bypass the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), where employees could not be worse off under a new workplace agreement compared to a previous one.

This aspect of the Bill was eventually withdrawn due to widespread opposition.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus is pressuring the Senate crossbench to support the rights of workers.

“Workers know that each of the crossbench senators have a choice to make between supporting the rights of working people and siding with big business to cut pay and conditions,” she said in a statement.

“This bill will delay the recovery by crushing wage growth and taking away job security for millions of workers.”

The combined statement represented a cross-section of industry groups including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia, Australian Mines and Metals Association, Master Builders Australia, Australian Constructors Association, Australian Retailers Association, Restaurant and Catering Industry Assoc., National Retail Association, and National Farmers Federation.