Albanese government to water down bargaining bill

500,000 more businesses to be exempted as Labor looks for independent support

Albanese government to water down bargaining bill

Around 500,000 more businesses will be exempt from multi-employer bargaining as the Albanese government looks to shore up support for its industrial relations legislation.

The exemptions would come under a threshold change recommended by a Senate committee, according to a report by The Australian Financial Review. The Albanese government has embraced the recommendation, Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke said.

The government is still seeking to lock down vital support from independent Senator David Pocock for its Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. With that in mind, it agreed to raise the threshold under which a small business could be required to engage in multi-employer bargaining, AFR reported.

Under the current legislation, a business with a minimum of 15 employees – including full-time, part-time and casual staff – could potentially be co-opted into multi-employer bargaining. The Senate committee has recommended raising that threshold to 20.

Business groups and the opposition, however, slammed the change as insubstantial. Business interests want the threshold upped to 100 employees, while the opposition is demanding a threshold of 200.

However, Burke said the recommended increase would mean that 97.5% of businesses would be exempt from single-stream multi-employer bargaining. Under the original threshold of 15, 90% would be exempt, AFR reported. That equates to 2.5 million businesses being exempt under the new threshold, up from 2 million.

“That’s a pretty big difference. That’s a pretty significant difference,” Burke said.

Burke said the recommendation was under consideration, and that he was continuing negotiations with Pocock, who remained undecided on Wednesday.

The government was also grilled about a mistake in the regulatory impact statement that accompanied the legislation. Thanks to a mathematical error, the statement estimated the compliance cost for a medium-sized business engaged in multi-employer bargaining would be $12,878 per employee. However, the real cost works out to $18,006, AFR reported.

Michaelia Cash, opposition industrial relations spokesperson, said the error illustrated the rushed nature of the legislation.

“You’ve got to ask what other errors are contained in this rushed legislation,” Cash said. “How can we trust anything this government has prepared?”

RBA criticism

Albanese’s government, meanwhile, has found itself in a war of words with both private industry and Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe over the legislation.

Lowe recently called on the government to keep employers’ ability to hire and fire flexible in order to keep Australia prosperous. Labor MPs rejected that admonition Wednesday. They also slammed Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, with NSW Senator Tony Sheldon accusing the airline of “mongrel corporate gorillaship” due to its treatment of employees.

The criticism came as Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Joyce about the proposed IR changes. Qantas has criticised the legislation and warned of possible cuts to domestic routes.

Sheldon accused Joyce of waging a “war on the middle class” due to the airline’s plans to move 1,300 employees off enterprise agreements, AFR reported. The senator claimed the airline wanted to drive down wages.

“I’ve met with mongrel corporate gorillas throughout my life,” Sheldon said. “It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, and in Qantas’s case, you also don’t have to respect them.”

Meanwhile, former Labor leader and Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten and fellow cabinet minister Tanya Plibersek blasted Lowe’s suggestion to keep hiring and firing flexible.

Shorten said that Lowe’s prediction of a possible wage-price spiral was “just rubbish,” while Plibersek dismissed his idea that pushing through the inflation crisis could be somewhat “painless” if wages growth stayed in the current range, AFR reported.

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