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

Labor has been urged by crossbench senators and employer groups not to rush through the complex industrial relations changes it says are needed urgently to increase wages.

On Thursday the workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, introduced the secure jobs, better pay bill, which proposes wide-ranging changes including expanded multi-employer bargaining and increased arbitration of wage disputes.

Burke urged parliamentarians “to remember how long people have already waited” for reforms to reverse a decade of wage stagnation.

The call was rebuffed by senators David Pocock, One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, Ralph Babet and the Jacqui Lambie Network, who attempted to push final consideration of the bill into the new year with a longer Senate inquiry.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, Andrew McKellar, accused the government of an “unseemly rush to jam this legislation through” despite consequences that “could be very severe, could be very far reaching”.

The office of best practice regulation has noted the bill has “possible widespread impacts on the Australian economy” but given “the difficulties predicting and measuring” these, it proposed a review within five years of implementation.

Labor and the Greens voted in the Senate to refer the bill to the education and employment committee, to report by 17 November.

Pocock unsuccessfully attempted to extend the reporting date to the first day of the second sitting week in 2023.

Pocock told the Senate it was faced “with a massive bill dealing with industrial relations – something that it is so crucial we get right for Australians, not only for workers, whose wages need to grow, but for employer groups, who have concerns – for which the committee will have only 22 days”.

Roberts told Guardian Australia the bill should be “properly scrutinised” and the timeline for the inquiry was “inadequate”. “I question what they have to hide in trying to rush the bill through.”

Babet told Guardian Australia Labor “is trying to ram through” the industrial relations bill, but vowed: “I won’t let them.”

Guardian Australia understands Lambie has used the bill to privately continue the crossbench push for the Albanese government to reverse cuts to their staffing allocation.

“We’ll do our best to review this legislation and consult with our communities in whatever time the government decides to give to us,” Lambie said.

“But from our initial impressions, I reckon it’s going to be hard to do our due diligence in time to meet these deadlines.”

With the Coalition opposed, Labor will need Greens support and one more senator to pass the bill. The Greens are pushing for legislated regular pay increases for workers in the care economy, particularly women. Pocock has publicly linked his vote to the federal government wiping the ACT’s public housing debt.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions wrote to members praising the laws “that will help ease the cost-of-living crisis by enabling workers to bargain for decent wage increases”.

But McKellar told reporters in Canberra that broadening the “single-interest employer” stream for bargaining “exposed the Australian economy to sector-wide strike action, disrupting supply chains and key industries at a time of extraordinary global volatility”.

AiGroup chief executive, Innes Willox, said there was no “serious or significant” employer support for these proposals.

“This does nothing for productivity or growth. It would only threaten our decades of national prosperity which have been underpinned by a focus on supporting bargaining at our small and large enterprises.”

Willox warned that passing the legislation by 1 December, when parliament rises for the year, was an “artificial deadline … neither helpful nor appropriate given the importance of what is at stake”.

Earlier, Burke told the House of Representatives that the bill will “ensure a fairer workplace relations system that provides Australians with job security, gender equity and sustainable wage growth”.

Burke said that Australians had “waited long enough” for the changes.

However, he left the door open to amendments, with consultation ongoing on several aspects of the legislation.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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