Employers to be allowed to alter employment terms for up to 2 years

New change would also avoid penalty rates for some

Employers to be allowed to alter employment terms for up to 2 years

Under the government’s proposed industrial relations changes, part-time workers in the retail, food and accommodation industries could work extra hours at their ordinary rate of pay.

Employers in 12 award areas most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic would be granted exemptions under the Fair Work Act that enable them to alter the terms of employment for their workers, according to a report by The Australian Financial Review. The exemptions would last for two years.

Under the proposal:

  • Part-time employees under the 12 awards could agree to work extra shifts at their normal pay rate
  • The better off overall test (BOOT) will be diluted to make its interpretation by the Fair Work Commission less rigid. In some cases, the BOOT will be essentially bypassed
  • Permanent part-time employees in the 12 award categories will be able to do extra work during regular hours without having to be paid penalty rates

The government said the proposal would reduce underemployment by giving part-time employees more work and reduce the reliance on casual workers.

The Labor movement is likely to oppose the changes to the BOOT, but supports the award simplification and the two-year exemptions in principle, AFR reported.

The omnibus industrial relations bill, set to be introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, will also fund a new free advice service to small businesses to prevent underpayment of wages, according to a report by The Guardian.

To qualify under the proposal, an agreement must be recorded; the part-time employee must work at least 16 regular hours but less than 38 in a week, and shifts must be at least three hours long. Normal penalty rates, including rates for evening, weekend or public holiday work, will still apply, but not loadings for overtime.

The bill is likely to see strong opposition from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which said that part-time flexibility is an “extreme suggestion from the employer lobby” that will reduce workers’ take-home pay through loss of overtime rates. However, the government cited statistics that said that more than a third of part-time workers in the food service and retail industries want extra hours.

But ACTU secretary Sally McManus told Guardian Australia in October that the idea was “simply a way to have casuals under another name, except with lower wages.

“We don’t support that proposal,” McManus said. “It would absolutely mean wages would be cut.”

McManus said that the proposal would fail the government’s own job-creation test, because employers would give extra hours to existing part-time employees instead of hiring more people.

But Christian Porter, industrial relations minister, called the proposal “groundbreaking,” saying it would resolve “a trio of ills in the current labour market – underemployment, the need for more flexibility and a desire by some employees for more permanent employment.”

The bill also proposes legislative solutions generated during employer-union meetings on casual workers, award simplification, workplace pay deal-making, deals for new worksites and compliance.

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