Government must engage stakeholders, not “spiritual healers”

A Senate inquiry into the government’s industrial relations bill has revealed the significant time and financial impost that businesses will face under a sweeping expansion of multi-employer bargaining.

The government’s calculations claim that medium-sized businesses can expect to face costs of $75,148 under multi-employer bargaining. While alarming in its own right, this is also a gross underestimate.

Indeed, departmental costings for businesses caught up in multi-employer negotiations have been revealed to be completely unrealistic and based on a single blog post by a self-described “spiritual healer”.

In reality, businesses can expect to pay more than double these fees for specialist bargaining and industrial relations experts, with costs of approximately $400 per hour more accurately reflecting market rates.

Under proposed IR changes, small business owners can also expect to spend more than 4.6 hours every day for up to six months, away from their businesses, negotiating a multi-employer agreement.

“Revelations from the final Senate committee hearing today confirm what we’ve known all along. This Bill has been rushed and is at best, half baked,” ACCI chief executive Andrew McKellar said.

“The revelations today make it even more obvious – the government must split the bill.

“Surely the costings for seismic changes to Australia’s workplace architecture should be the product of a more rigorous analysis than the top result on a Google search.

“It’s not just employer groups that are raising concerns about the lack of consultation and scrutiny. Even one of the government’s own federal oversight agencies, the Office of Best Practice Regulation, is not satisfied with the level of stakeholder engagement.

“While we share the ambitions for stronger wages growth, the government has not been able to produce any modelling to substantiate their claims that a dramatic expansion of untrialled multi-employer bargaining will do anything to lift wages.

“Under proposed changes, business owners can also expect to dedicate more than half their day, every working day, for each agreement, to participate in bargaining negotiations, with no guarantee that they won’t be silenced by big unions cutting deals with big business.

“The last thing small business owners need right now is to be dragged into expensive, protracted, and arduous multi-employer bargaining agreements that will do nothing to increase wages, nothing more to make jobs more secure, and nothing to make businesses more resilient in the facing of growing uncertainty.

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