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Australian Companies Urge Parliament to Reject ‘Severely Defective’ Industrial Relations Bill

Australian industrial and business communities have called on the parliament to reject the newly introduced workplace relations bill, saying it will negatively affect most enterprises and workers nationwide.

On Sept. 4, the Australian Labor government introduced a new piece of legislation to the parliament to “close the loopholes” in the current industrial relations laws.

The legislation is the third tranche of a reform initiated by the Labor government and brings about various significant changes to businesses’ hiring and employment practices.

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Under the changes, employers guilty of underpaying their workers could face criminal penalties of up to ten years in prison or fines of up to $7.8 million (US$5 million).
Businesses are also compelled to pay labour-hire workers at least the same remuneration as their regular employees to close what the government calls the “labour-hire loophole.”

This loophole refers to the situation when an employer uses labour-hire workers with cheaper pay rates to force their regular staff to accept a lower remuneration than in their enterprise agreements.

In addition, the legislation proposed to provide a minimum wage for workers in the gig economy.

Other areas of change included stronger workplace protections for survivors of family or domestic violence, introducing an offence and increasing penalties for industrial manslaughter, and better support for workers who have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The new bill also provided some exemptions for small businesses employing 15 people or fewer.

Industrial Community Calls on Parliament to Reject the Bill

Innes Willox, the CEO of the national employer association Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), urged the parliament to vote down the legislation due to its “flawed” nature.

“The government is proposing major changes to core aspects of our workplace relations system. They are changes that will, collectively, impact most sectors of the economy,” he said in a statement.

“It is crucial that parliament properly scrutinises the changes and isn’t misguided by efforts to downplay the adverse impacts of the changes or their significance.”

Cafe staff in Hardware lane prepare to re-open in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 22, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
Cafe staff in Hardware lane prepare to re-open in Melbourne, Australia, on Oct. 22, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Mr. Willox also alleged that the changes, including the same job, same pay policy and the alteration of the definition of casual employees, would make it harder for employers to hire workers and limit their abilities to offer flexible working arrangements for casual staff.

“Make no mistake, there will be vast numbers of casual employees who will have their livelihoods put a risk by these changes if they see the light of day,” he added.

“Any contention that these changes won’t lead to major disruption in the labour market and to detrimental impacts on workers and employees is fanciful.”

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