Labor’s workplace bill passes lower house after further concessions on multi-employer bargaining

Most extensive IR legislation in two decades now moves to the Senate where independent David Pocock is the swing vote

Labor’s industrial relations legislation has passed the House of Representatives after further government concessions limiting the application of multi-employer bargaining.

The “secure jobs, better pay” bill – the most extensive changes to workplace laws in two decades – will now move to the Senate where the ACT independent David Pocock is the swing vote who has driven a suite of changes to accommodate business concerns.

In part, the bill implements a series of Labor election promises, including a ban on pay secrecy clauses and adding gender pay equity as an objective to the Fair Work Act.

But the Albanese government faces a growing backlash over elements added after its jobs and skills summit, including a return to compulsory arbitration of intractable disputes and the expansion of multi-employer bargaining.

On Thursday, the workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, unveiled new amendments to ensure the “primacy” of enterprise bargaining, responding to concerns that employers who wanted to negotiate with their workforce could nevertheless be forced into multi-employer deals.

Labor has also agreed to exclude the entire commercial building and construction industry from multi-employer bargaining, replacing the clause targeting the construction union for breaches of industrial law with a general exclusion.

Burke told the house this decision – likely to stop electricians, plumbers and other trades bargaining together – was “not taken lightly”.

The government does “not believe it is appropriate or necessary to extend multi-employer bargaining to this industry at this time”, he said.

The bill passed 80 votes to 56 on Thursday afternoon with the independent MPs Zoe Daniel, Monique Ryan, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie joining Labor and the Greens in favour.

The Coalition, along with MPs Kate Chaney, Allegra Spender, Sophie Scamps, Helen Haines, Rebekha Sharkie and Dai Le voted against it.

Pocock met Anthony Albanese on Wednesday to discuss the bill, his first meeting with the prime minister since July, in a sign Labor is pulling out all the stops to pass its landmark reform in the final parliamentary sitting fortnight at the end of November.

The backlash against the bill continued to grow with the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia – a key plank in support of multi-employer bargaining options at the jobs and skills summit – joining other employers in warning it is not fit to pass in its current form.

But in the house, Labor and the Greens combined to defeat amendments from crossbench MPs to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and broaden protections for small businesses against being forced into multi-employer bargaining.

These included a proposal that businesses that employ 100 people or fewer be exempted from the single-interest multi-employer bargaining stream, up from 15.

The independent MP Zali Steggall described the 15-employee limit for the carve-out as “ridiculous”, while Daniel also encouraged the government to consider amending it in the Senate.

Haines said the limit on the carve-out for small business was “almost of universal concern” to those she had consulted.

Earlier, Burke introduced “sensible changes … at the request of business” including two amendments to ensure the “primacy of enterprise agreements”.

“Under our amendments, employers who have agreed with an employee organisation to start bargaining for a single enterprise agreement are exempt from the single-interest [multi-employer bargaining] stream,” he said.

“The Fair Work Commission will have the capacity for up to six months after the expiry of an [enterprise] agreement to exempt an employer from the single-interest stream where [it] has a history of effective bargaining.”

Burke confirmed that voting for multi-employer deals would be determined on “an employer-by-employer basis”, meaning an employer cannot be forced to bargain and its employees cannot go on strike unless a majority of their workforce vote for it.

The government has also added a new minimum period of good faith bargaining before the FWC can arbitrate an “intractable” dispute.

Businesses will have at least six months from the expiry of the previous pay deal or three months from an application for arbitration, whichever is sooner, to conclude a pay deal.

The opposition’s immigration spokesperson, Dan Tehan, told the house the number of amendments – which had now reached 150 – had become “highly embarrassing” for the government.

On Wednesday, Cosboa joined employer groups the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia, the Minerals Council and the National Farmers’ Federation calling for the government to “either abandon or substantially amend various contentious elements of the bill relating to bargaining”.

Pocock has called for the bill to be split, allowing the low-paid bargaining stream to pass in 2022 and delaying the single-interest bargaining stream for further consideration.

Pocock’s case was boosted by the industrial relations academic, Prof Andrew Stewart, warning the bill was “not in a fit state to be passed” because it was “impossible” to determine the scope of the single-interest stream.

“It’s not clear to me what type of employers it’s meant to cover and what type it isn’t,” Stewart reportedly told The Australian.

“Right now there’s a strong argument for taking that part of the legislation out and getting the rest of the bill through.”


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
More time needed to examine Labor’s IR bill, say crossbench senators and employer groups
Workplace relations minister says Australians have ‘waited long enough’ for changes but has left door open to amendments

Paul Karp

27, Oct, 2022 @8:48 AM

Article image
David Pocock to give crucial support to IR bill after deal on jobseeker and welfare
Agreement struck with key independent boosts safeguards for small and medium businesses

Paul Karp

27, Nov, 2022 @12:28 AM

Article image
Albanese government to commit to multi-employer bargaining despite business concerns
Treasurer Jim Chalmers says ‘sufficient common ground’ has been reached at jobs summit although employer groups fear industry-wide strike action

Paul Karp

01, Sep, 2022 @4:07 AM

Article image
Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock oppose Labor ‘rushing through’ workplace bill
Albanese government has agreed amendments to get business on board but independent senators won’t be bullied into passing omnibus legislation

Paul Karp and Lisa Cox

07, Nov, 2022 @8:35 AM

Article image
Workplace reforms back on agenda when parliament returns next week, Tony Burke says
Albanese government to launch new industrial relations negotiations but all but rules out bringing back bargaining fees for non-union members

Paul Karp

01, Feb, 2023 @7:11 AM

Article image
Dodson ‘taken aback’ by Nationals’ call on Indigenous voice – as it happened
This blog is now closed

Mostafa Rachwani and Amy Remeikis (earlier)

28, Nov, 2022 @8:01 AM

Article image
Cash claims IR law will lead to ‘chaos and confusion’ – as it happened
This blog is now closed

Lisa Cox and Royce Kurmelovs (earlier)

27, Nov, 2022 @6:48 AM

Article image
Labor’s industrial relations bill passes despite late Coalition filibuster
Labor’s workplace reforms – the biggest for decades – go through despite attempts by Michaelia Cash to thwart its passage

Paul Karp and Amy Remeikis

01, Dec, 2022 @6:06 PM

Article image
Labor agrees to amend workplace bill but pushback over multi-employer pay deals persists
Tony Burke says voting procedures on agreements have been changed as the government aims to get package through Senate by year’s end

Daniel Hurst

06, Nov, 2022 @1:37 AM

Article image
‘Naccflip’: National anti-corruption commission bill passes Senate after Greens backdown
Minor party resolves to support a crossbench amendment instead of Coalition on key appointment

Paul Karp

29, Nov, 2022 @8:22 AM