A message from the CEO: Commonwealth Government’s IR reforms

11 December 2020

Dear PA Members,

During the COVID-19 pandemic the Morrison government undertook consultation with business groups and unions on a range of industrial relations reforms they were considering.     

When the process of reviewing our workplace laws started, the government said it wanted to transcend the adversarial nature of industrial relations and adopt a more conciliatory approach and this was welcomed by our union.

Unfortunately, the reforms unveiled by the Morrison government this week undermine the existing rights and entitlements of Australian workers, including those who worked tirelessly on the front line during the pandemic, delivering essential services and support to our community.  

While the government’s Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill contains a range of troubling reforms, we want to update you on those of greatest concern.  

Non-compliance with the Better Off Overall Test 

The current Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) ensures that no worker is left worse off in terms of wages and conditions as result of the making of an enterprise bargaining agreement. The government’s proposed reforms will allow two-year agreements to be made where a worker can be made worse-off under the BOOT test, if the company can show such an agreement is economically necessary.

When you look closely at these laws, they will simply allow employers to cut wages and conditions, even permitting agreements which deliver conditions below the minimum award safety-net.

Casual employment 

Early reports suggested changes to casual employment proposed by the government would offer casual workers greater security and encourage employers to offer casual workers permanent employment. 

On closer inspection, the proposed laws take rights away from casuals, and allow employers to categorise employees as “casual” at the start of their employment, even when the true nature of the employment is permanent and ongoing. This will deprive employees of their entitlements to annual and sick leave. 

Although the government argues casual workers will be able to become permanent after 12 months, the laws don’t provide workers with any way of enforcing this right. Frankly, rights aren’t worth much if they can’t be enforced.
Part-time employees 

Part- time employees may also have their take home pay cut by the proposed ‘part-time flexibility’ provisions. This proposal means that if part-time workers work additional hours, employers will be able to pay the additional hours on time for time rates, rather than overtime rates.

Greenfields agreements and major projects 

Under the proposed laws, greenfields agreements of eight years would be applied to projects over $500 million. A greenfields agreement covers a new enterprise or new project and it doesn’t require approval from employees whose employment will be covered by the agreement. So, the greenfields proposal means that workers on big projects won’t have any say whatsoever over their working conditions, creating a class of workers with fewer rights than everyone else. 

What’s next?

It is extremely disappointing that after a year when unions put doubt to one side and worked extremely hard, together with workers, business, and the community to try and find common ground where sensible change could be made in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian workers now face attacks on their wages and conditions. 

The Government’s Omnibus IR Bill has been introduced into Federal Parliament this week before going to a Senate Committee for examination and will return to Parliament for debate next year.

In the meantime, we will not accept proposed changes from the government that leave working people worse off and we will be actively opposing any attempts to water down workplace rights.

We’ll be sure to keep you updated on developments.

Jill McCabe
CEO, Professionals Australia