Labor, Unions cold on Government’s IR Bill

Prior to Christmas, the Morrison Government unveiled its Omnibus IR Bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 (see our related article). Unions were immediately disgruntled by the proposed reform, claiming the Bill reflected “exactly what the employers wanted” whilst earlier this month, the Labor caucus was resolute in its pledge to oppose the Bill, in its entirety.

Labor IR spokesperson, Tony Burke, has been quoted as saying there was “no way” Labor would support a Bill that “cuts pay”, adding that the proposed legislation needed to pass a simple test; “it had to deliver secure jobs with decent pay”, but that it “delivers the opposite”.  

In mid-February, in response to strong backlash, the Morrison Government confirmed it had relinquished its planned pursuit of changes to the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) in relation to the making of enterprise agreements, but Labor and the Unions maintain the proposed legislation will still fail to deliver the desired outcome of secure jobs with decent pay.

Whilst lobbying cross-bench Senators in Canberra, ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, confirmed that Unions generally wanted casual employees to have the right to convert to permanent after a qualifying period of regular work, with the employer then to challenge it, rather than the proposed provision which allows a casual to request conversion, which can then be refused by an employer on the basis of reasonable business grounds.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, unveiled elements of Labor’s “Secure Australian Jobs Plan” which draws on “vision statements” first announced in October 2019. Labor’s desired objectives include: expanding the legislated definition of an ‘employee’ to include workers in the gig economy; creating a “fair test to determine when a worker can be classified as a casual” (though further detail is yet to be provided); legislating so that workers employed through labour hire companies receive at least the same pay as workers employed directly by a business; legislating for fixed-term contract limits for the same role to be limited to 24 months, or no more than two consecutive contracts, whichever comes first; creating more secure public sector jobs by ending “inappropriate” temporary contracts; and award government contracts to companies and organisations that offer their employees secure work.

During a recent speech, Mr Albanese commented on the ease and convenience available to “big global firms” engaging gig workers, saying, “we are seeing a depressingly familiar picture: workers scrambling for insecure jobs and agreeing to below minimum wage rates to perform work that’s paid by the piece”. Mr Albanese noted that “in recent times we’ve seen the terrible consequences of a largely unregulated industry that puts unacceptable pressure on gig workers to meet the demands of an algorithm – five deaths [of food delivery workers] on our roads over three months”.

Whilst identifying that Labor wishes to pursue establishment of a national, portable entitlements scheme for annual leave, sick leave and long service leave for Australians in insecure work, Mr Albanese also claimed that he understood that “without successful businesses, we don’t get jobs growth”.

Labor’s plans are set to be debated in coming months at a “virtual” national conference, while the Government’s IR Bill has been referred to a Senate inquiry, which is due to report back on March 12.