So much for consensus: Morrison government’s industrial relations bill is a business wish list


” Weve got to put down our weapons,” he declared. The change in approach was even compared to the historical Accords of the 1980s, in which the Hawke-Keating Labor government persuaded unions to accept wage freezes in return for enhanced social advantages (like Medicare and superannuation).

“We are all in this together,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison solemnly intoned in April– and for a quick couple of months, in the face of the recession wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Australias commercial relations protagonists agreed.

They quickly worked out changes to dozens of awards and enterprise contracts, adjusting rosters and rules to assist keep Australians on the job.

In late May, seeing opportunity in that spirit of cooperation, Morrison declared a brand-new consensus-based technique to commercial relations.

If passed, it will even more alter the already uneven balance of power towards companies.

Today federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter exposed the rotten fruit of the roundtable procedure, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australias Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020.

Well, the Kumbaya moment didnt last long.

One of its most significant changes is to suspend guidelines that prevent business contracts from undercutting minimum award standards. This proposal wasnt even gone over at the roundtables.

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Now, in the absence of consensus, the government has selected up its standard hymn book and is once again singing the praises of “flexibility”.

The federal government reserved its effort to enforce more legal limitations on unions and established new “industrial relations reform roundtables” for company groups, unions and federal government authorities to interact on reforming work environment laws Morrison stated were “not fit for purpose”.

Within weeks the celebrations pulled back to their corners and their standard speaking points. No meaningful consensus emerged on any problem from any table.

The expense doesnt simply take the companies side in the five concerns discussed at those roundtables (award simplification, enterprise arrangements, casual work, compliance and enforcement, and “greenfields contracts” for brand-new business).

Organization groups, federal governments and unions put aside their usual differences and collaborated to reduce task losses.

Even tentative propositions– like an idea supported by unions and the Business Council of Australia to integrate fast-track approval of union-negotiated business contracts with greater versatility in determining their viability– were shot down in partisan shooting by more strident service lobbyists.

Here are the most substantial methods the expense will weight the scales further to the drawback of employees.

This validates the gloves are off when again in Australias interminable IR wars.

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Suspending the BOOT

Apparently in anticipation that unions will actively oppose non-BOOT-compliant arrangements, the bill likewise consists of steps to speed their approval by the Fair Work Commission. Unions will be limited from stepping in around arrangements they were not straight involved in negotiating (consisting of intervening versus agreements that had no union involvement at all).

The costs proposes suspending BOOT for 2 years. Even if it were restored after that (which is unpredictable), arrangements approved throughout that window would stay in result (business contracts normally last four years). Even after they end, under Australian law they remain in result till replaced by a new arrangement, or ended by the FWC– neither of which is likely in a non-unionised workplace.

As the law now stands, enterprise arrangements can not undercut minimum standards in industry awards. This is known as the “much better off general test”– or BOOT. The brand-new costs instructs the Fair Work Commission to approve contracts even if they fail this test, so long as the deal is nominally supported by affected employees (more on this listed below) and considered to be in the “public interest”.

Australia is distinct among wealthy countries in enabling employers to unilaterally carry out enterprise contracts, without participation by a union. The BOOT is thus necessary to avoid business agreements from undermining award rights.

Widening the definition of casual work

The growing use of “casual” work arrangements was a hot subject at the IR reform tables. The brand-new costs clarifies the definition of casual work in the most extensive method possible: a casual task is any position considered casual by the employer, and accepted by the employee, for which there is no promise of routine continuing employment.

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In other words, any task can be casual, so long as workers are desperate adequate to accept it. This will promote the additional spread of insecure employment without paid leave privileges. Most significantly, it removes a big possible liability faced by employers as an outcome of current court choices, under which they might have owed back spend for holidays and ill leave to workers incorrectly treated as casual workers.

Casualising part-time workers

Additional casualisation will be obtained through new rules concerning lineups and hours for irreversible part-time employees. The bill extends flexibility provisions initially carried out previously this year– throughout that short moment of pandemic-induced cooperation. The guidelines allow employers to change hours for routine part-timers without incurring overtime penalties or other expenses (presently required under some awards). This will enable companies to effectively use part-time workers yet another kind of casual, just-in-time labour.

Doubling new job contract times

Finally, the costs grants one more huge desire from the organization list.

It allows super-long business contracts at major brand-new jobs. Contracts can last for as much as 8 years– double the time now allowed– and be signed, sealed and delivered before any workers start on the task (thus rejecting them any input into the procedure).

Under modified BOOT provisions, they might likewise undercut the minimum standards of any market awards.

Back to business as normal

Even if it were brought back after that (which is uncertain), agreements authorized during that window would remain in effect (business agreements normally last four years). Apparently in anticipation that unions will actively oppose non-BOOT-compliant arrangements, the bill likewise includes steps to speed their approval by the Fair Work Commission. Unions will be restricted from stepping in around agreements they were not straight included in negotiating (consisting of intervening against contracts that had no union participation at all).

Now, simple months later on, the federal government is back to its old methods– and the pandemic is just another excuse to scapegoat unions, drive down wages and fatten service revenues.
Jim Stanford works for the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute which gets financing from a range of humanitarian, specific, and organisational donors. Jim Stanford spoke with as an external professional for one of the commercial relations roundtables mentioned in the article.This material was initially published here.

As the law now stands, enterprise contracts can not damage minimum standards in market awards. The brand-new bill advises the Fair Work Commission to approve arrangements even if they fail this test, so long as the deal is nominally supported by affected employees (more on this listed below) and deemed to be in the “public interest”.

In truth, the changes in part-time and casual rules will actually prevent brand-new hiring. Because existing employees can be costlessly “flexed” in line with employer requirements, there is no need to work with anybody else.

So what to make from that temporary spirit of togetherness that supposedly triggered this whole process? In retrospection, it seems to have actually been just an opportunity for the Coalition government to position as visionary statesmen during a time of crisis.

These changes are being marketed as a spur for post-pandemic job development. This claim is hollow.

Weaker BOOT securities will spur a wave of new enterprise arrangements, many union-free, and aimed at reducing (not raising) payment and standards. This makes a mockery of the goals of cumulative bargaining, and grants employers further opportunity to suppress labour expenses (currently tracking at their slowest speed in postwar history).


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