‘Handballed our conflict’ to the Parliament, employer group says

By Melissa Coade

Friday April 23, 2021

parliament-house
(Image: Adobe/manpreet)

Disagreement among employer groups over industrial relations reforms has left stakeholders ‘disappointed’ and ‘bruised’ according to the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), after the government failed to pass enterprise bargaining laws.

A workplace relations bill tabled by the Coalition government that could have promised much need reform, only saw a single schedule of casual employment changes legislated in March.

Council chair Mark McKenzie said the events of the past few months have left employer groups wondering how important reforms to the industrial relations system are ever to be achieved. 

Our collective failure as employer groups to agree on a way forward meant that we simply handballed our conflict and disagreement on a way forward to the Australian parliament,” Mr McKenzie said.

“The result is that the bill was dramatically scaled down due to the normal political to-ing and fro-ing of legislative process.”

A majority of the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) bill failed to pass in Parliament, Mr McKenzie claims, due to a disagreement from large employer groups over the ‘importance and specifics’ of draft provisions that had been developed through the working group process. The concerns centred on whether payroll mistakes may have been construed under the legislation to amount to wage theft, he said.

“Wage theft is different to payroll mistakes. Pretending that legislating against wage theft will result in small business employers who make mistakes going to jail – particularly coming from the mouths of big business groups, some of whom regularly defend deliberate misclassification of staff as contractors – is reprehensible,” Mckenzie said.

The Morrison government was unable to pass the majority of the bill, McKenzie claims, because the large employer groups disagreed about the importance and specifics of the draft provisions that had been developed through the working group process.

COSBOA CEO Peter Strong said the council wanted real change and was therefore prepared to support incremental steps to reform IR laws. He rebuked the position of other groups representing larger employers such as the ACCI and Ai Group who have gone on record to criticise the position of the council of small business organisations in a wide-ranging IR feature published by The Weekend Australian

“We are motivated by practicality, not ideology,” Strong said. 

“Let there be no doubt we want a simpler workplace relations system that is easy for small business employers to navigate. One that gives small businesses confidence to employ people. But let’s achieve this one step at a time.”

Reports suggest that one sticking point between the employer groups was over an overarching principle proposed during government working group consultations – that “no worker should be worse off as a result of industrial relations reforms”. 

Representatives of the larger employer groups have rejected the suggestion as disingenuous and a lazy reference by the ACTU to the ‘bosses are bastards’ and ‘them versus us’ argument. 


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