Government passes IR reforms bill following “spiteful” amendments

retail worker in uniform
Government failed to protect workers, but gave businesses new powers, argues ACTU.

The Government’s controversial IR Omnibus reform bill has successfully passed through federal parliament, albeit with a number of changes to the initial bill made to secure crossbench support.

The bill successfully dealt with the “issue” around casual employment, according to ARA chief executive Paul Zahra, in that casual workers will now be able to be offer fulltime work after 12 months of work – unless a business has under 15 staff or can justify why a promotion is unnecessary – and prevents casual workers from receiving both casual loading and receiving paid leave entitlements.

This issue, which was highlighted last year in a decision by the Federal Court that a casual employee had been working regular hours agreed to in advance and could reasonably be classified as having worked a part- or full-time job without the benefits, exposed fears in the business community that they could be exposed to billions of dollars of retrospective leave claims.

This would have led to mass business closures and job losses, said Zahra.

“Having a clear definition of a casual employee is a significant win. This has been a key advocacy area for the ARA, including our participation in the Attorney General’s casual employment working group,” Zahra said.

“Industrial relations reform is never easy, and while not everything in the Government’s original bill has been agreed to, we have to take the wins whichever way they come.”

One of the marque reforms introduced in the initial bill, that of criminalising wage theft, was left on the cutting room floor – a decision University of Sydney associate professor said was indicative of the Government’s unwillingness to protect workers above businesses.

“The federal government’s unwillingness to protect workers’ wages and ensure a level playing field will spur a race to the bottom. This is a missed opportunity to prevent Australia’s wage theft crisis from deepening,” Knox said.

“The amendments are tilted in favour of employers and fail to effectively advance worker interests. Many of the essential workers we have depended on throughout the Covid-19 crisis are employed casually and their entitlements are being stripped back.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus called the backflip “spiteful”.

“All that remains in the bill is an attack on the rights of casual workers, which will make exploitation even more widespread and leave workers unable to enforce their rights,” McManus said.

“This is a shameful and vindictive reaction to not getting widespread support for other changes that would reduce workers’ rights.”

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