Government IR Bill – Time for tired old arguments and scare campaigns to be put aside

“The greatest economic decline since the Great Depression must force us to get past tired old arguments and perpetual references to WorkChoices,” Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said today.

“The Government’s IR Bill contains balanced and measured proposals worked through after months of negotiations to try to help get businesses moving, get people back to work and put sustainable pay into their pockets. There is nothing radical here, and neither employers or unions got all that they would have wanted.

“If these measures aren’t passed then our recovery will be slower and longer, instability and uncertainty will be more pronounced and we will have missed an opportunity for some fixes to a workplace relations system that is rapidly losing the confidence of both employers and employees and also losing relevance in the emerging 21st century economy.

“Ai Group will file its Senate inquiry submission on the Bill this afternoon. The submission will be available on Ai Group’s website as soon as it is cleared for publication by the Senate Committee. The submission sets out Ai Group’s view on the Bill, including:

  • The casual employment provisions in the Bill are particularly important due to the widespread uncertainties and cost risks that have arisen from the Federal Court’s controversial decisions in the WorkPac v Skene1 and WorkPac v Rossato2 cases. The uncertainties and risks are particularly relevant to small businesses. Importantly, the Bill includes:
    • A definition of a ‘casual employee’, rather than the vague indicia approach adopted by the Federal Court;
    • Protection for employers against ‘double-dipping’ claims by employees who have been engaged and paid as casuals.
  • The modern award provisions in the Bill would deliver some modest but important flexibility for employers and employees in industries heavily impacted by the pandemic.
  • The enterprise agreement provisions are designed to address widely recognised problems that have led to the number of current enterprise agreements in Australia reducing from 25,000 a decade ago to less than 10,000 today. The reinvigoration of the enterprise bargaining system will lead to productivity improvements and wages growth at the enterprise level.
  • The greenfields agreement provisions of the Bill would enable agreements to continue for the life of a major project (up to a maximum of eight years). This would assist in driving investment and jobs in the construction and resources industries.
  • Ai Group does not support employers who deliberately underpay their employees. However, the much higher civil penalties and the criminal penalties in the Bill for underpayments are not warranted. Civil penalties in the FW Act for underpayments were increased tenfold in 2017 and the evidence is that these increases have had a positive impact on compliance. There is no evidence that justifies the highly punitive approach in Schedule 5 of the Bill. The proposed provisions would operate as a barrier to jobs growth and investment during the recovery from the pandemic.

“It is important that the Bill is passed by Parliament without delay”, said Mr Willox,” Mr Willox said.

1[2018] FCAFC 131.

2[2020] FCAFC 84. The High Court of Australia is currently hearing an appeal by WorkPac against this decision.

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