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Business Groups Sound Alarm on Labor’s “Deeply Flawed” Workplace Law Reforms

Australian business groups have continued to push back against the Albanese government’s proposed workplace relations laws, saying the bill is “deeply flawed” and will impact sections of the economy.

It comes as the Labor government introduced the “Closing the Loopholes” Bill into Parliament on Sept. 4 by Employment Minister Tony Burke, who said it would improve working conditions for Australian workers.

Under the bill, a raft of workplace law changes will compel companies to pay labour-hire workers the same rates as full or part-time employees. The bill will also criminalise wage theft, change gig economy working conditions (Uber Eats and so on), create a pathway for casuals to become permanent, and end discrimination against survivors of domestic violence.

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In a Sept. 4 statement, Innes Willox, CEO of the national employer association Ai Group, said it is crucial Parliament “properly scrutinises” the proposed bill and does not downplay the significance or impact of the proposal.

“The ‘same job same pay policy’ will make it harder for employers to get the workers they need,” Mr. Willox said.

“The measures amount to an unfair and unjustified attack on labour-hire employers as well as the businesses and workers that depend upon the sector.

“Crucially, the government hasn’t gone far enough in ensuring that a change that is directed at closing a ‘labour hire loophole’ isn’t able to be used by unions to challenge and interfere with a raft of other commercial arrangements between businesses that haven’t traditionally been considered ‘labour hire.’”

Opposition workplace relations spokesperson, Michaelia Cash, said Senate members would comb through the bill.

“If you were given 800 pages of complex legislation that was going to affect your business, would you not ask the government to actually give this chamber the opportunity to properly scrutinise it?” she told the upper house on Sept. 7.

Employment Minister Says It Will Be ‘Life Changing’

Minister for Workplace Relations Tony Burke has pitched the bill as “life-changing.”

“This year’s legislation is about closing the loopholes that undercut pay and conditions for workers,” Mr. Burke said.

“Most workers will be unaffected by what happens this year, but for those who are affected—this will be life-changing.”

Minister for Employment Tony Burke during the Industrial Relations Bill vote in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Dec. 2, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Minister for Employment Tony Burke during the Industrial Relations Bill vote in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Dec. 2, 2022. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Additionally, rideshare and food delivery drivers would receive an extra $400 million a year, but the government has warned that some of that cost would be passed on to customers and restaurants.

The proposed bill will also raise wages by $510 million annually, affecting about 67,000 workers, according to documents attached to the bill.

Bill Contains ‘Major Flaw,’ Says Law Professor

Employment law expert, Professor Andrew Stewart from the University of Adelaide, said under its current form, the bill could have a wider purview than being presented by the government.

“It’s not what the legislation says. In fact, the legislation, as I read it, says the exact opposite. It says specialist contracting services are covered but the commission will have the discretion to not make an order to cover them,” Mr. Stewart said, reported The Guardian. “I think something’s gone wrong with the drafting.”

The law professor said that a law firm, accounting firm, or IT company that provides specialist services to a workplace is “potentially covered,” but has recommended an amendment be made to fix the “flaw”

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