Labor’s proposed changes to workplace law have come under fire as “not well understood” and “not well defined,” with President of the Business Council of Australia Tim Reed warning the same job, same pay legislation could harm the economy and put more strain on businesses.
Speaking to Business Weekend on Sky News Australia, Mr Reed said he was concerned many in the community had misunderstood the proposed industrial reforms and that he and other business leaders were seeking more “clarity” from the government.
“The same job, same pay legislation is not well understood in the community and it’s not well defined by the government,” he said.
“Part of why these business groups, and we’re a part of them, have been coming out and been speaking over the last 48 hours is we’d really like to get more clarity and more definition on that.”
A coalition of interest groups including the Minerals Council of Australia, Nationals Farmers’ Federation, Business Council of Australia, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, Master Builders Australia, and the Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association has already begun a lobbying effort to turn public opinion against the legislation.
The eight peak bodies are determined to pressure the government into changes after reportedly feeling aggrieved over a lack of deep consultation at Labor’s Jobs Summit on the first round of industrial reforms put forward last year.
They are concerned that the changes go beyond cracking down on dodgy labour hire practices and will result in unfair distortions to wages as well as hamper flexibility in the labour market.
Mr Reed said it could lead to employees with years of experience being paid on the same level as someone who had been working for “two weeks,” saying he believed it was important for businesses to be able to reward employees who showed commitment to their role.
“It’s just not fair that somebody that has 20 years experience in a workplace cannot be paid more than someone who’s been there for two weeks,” he said.
“We should be able to reward employees who commit themselves to jobs that build skills, build knowledge, and build professions.
“This legislation as it’s currently framed… brings into question whether that can happen.”
He added that the government characterising the reforms as “same job, same pay” was misleading, saying he believed many in the community would interpret the purpose as targeting the gender pay gap and not the gig economy.
Despite his objections, and those of the wider business community, Mr Reed said he believed the laws had a strong chance of passing the Parliament, with potentially harmful consequences for the economy.
The BCA and others claim that restricting labour hire practices will hamper firms looking to bring on extra staff during periods of high need, such as when they expand operations.
In a joint statement earlier this month, the eight peak bodies behind the lobbying campaign said the reforms could mean opportunities for growth “go begging.”
“Businesses of all shapes and sizes need the ability to ramp up and ramp down, as economic conditions require and as opportunities arise,” the statement said.
“Workplace rigidity will ensure these opportunities for growth will either go begging, or companies will be forced to endure a never-ending rollercoaster of hiring and firing as project development, construction and commodity prices rise or fall.”
Despite this, the government appears determined to press ahead with its workplace agenda.
Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said he had anticipated a campaign from business against the reforms, but was determined to stay on track and “get wages moving.”
“To do that we need to close the loopholes that are undermining wages,” he said.
“That’s what our next set of workplace relations reform is all about.”
He added this would include cracking down on “cowboy labour hire firms that undercut pay and conditions.”