Malcolm Roberts has warned the Coalition that One Nation “doesn’t believe” its industrial relations reforms will have a significant impact on Covid-19 recovery and it has “a long way to go” to win support for the omnibus bill.
One Nation’s industrial relations spokesman made the comments to Guardian Australia on Tuesday, as Labor continued to attack the government in question time over expanded powers for businesses affected by Covid-19 to cut workers’ pay.
The omnibus bill, released in December, has sparked a major political fight between the government, unions and Labor, which resolved on Tuesday at its caucus to oppose the bill.
Employer groups are lobbying through a Senate inquiry for a two-year phase-in period or amnesty for small and medium enterprises against new proposed criminal penalties for businesses that underpay staff. The call is backed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia.
Roberts said although industrial relations is “important” for economic growth, it is less so than energy and tax policy, and the omnibus bill “raises more questions than it does answers”.
“At a time when Aussie workers and employers needed peace of mind about job creation and job security, they got more complexity.”
Roberts complained the bill contains “topics that both the Business Council and the unions have said were not raised in the closed-door meetings, they weren’t public meetings, they weren’t open to scrutiny”.
Roberts also raised concerns about the practicality of the bill’s improved rights to request permanent work after 12 months, suggesting that employees could lose casual loadings as a result while employers would face the “onerous burden” of paying other entitlements such as annual leave.
After the federal court found that misclassified casuals could be owed the entitlements of permanent workers, Roberts said employers are now “randomising rosters” to avoid breaching the rules.
This had resulted in employees being asked to work shift patterns that were irregular and inconvenient for them, he claimed.
According to Roberts, the government’s solution to allow employers and employees to define who is casual rather than look at the pattern of work will benefit “big companies and the IR club which has lawyers and deep pockets”. Small business would be left behind because it can’t afford human resources advice, he argued.
Roberts declined to nominate specific amendments One Nation will seek, citing a separate consultation the minor party is conducting with 70 stakeholders.
“All we can say is the government have a long way to go – watch this space.”
Roberts suggested that small businesses should be assisted with a “holiday from certain requirements” to compensate them for “capricious” Covid-19 lockdowns and border closures.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions president, Michele O’Neil, told Guardian Australia that it was “inaccurate” of Scott Morrison to claim the reform is “modest”, as the government had “listened to the more extreme elements of the business lobby” in crafting the bill.
Unions are running controversial ads depicting Morrison driving an “omnibus” – to represent the bill – at a group of workers.
O’Neil said the bill “obviously attacks those workers that carried us through the pandemic”, introducing “provisions with less pay, [fewer] conditions and rights when workers have already sacrificed so much”.
The bill proposes that employers affected by Covid-19 can ask their workers to agree to new pay deals that do not leave them better off overall.
O’Neil said the Fair Work Act already contained provisions to change pay deals in “exceptional circumstances” so there was “no need” for the new section that would see workers “lose pay and conditions” as they did under WorkChoices.
She rejected employers’ call for a moratorium on wage theft prosecutions, noting the tax office does not give employers “two years off paying tax”.
Unions are also concerned that new provisions allowing part-time workers to pick up extra hours at ordinary time rates “opens up casualisation of part-time jobs”, she said.
“Instead of agreed to a certain number of hours in your part-time job – this allows a minimum of 16 hours, then the employer can change from week to week the number of hours you’re required to work – that’s casualisation by another name.”
Cosboa chief executive, Peter Strong, backed the change, arguing it decreases casualisation because employers can give extra hours to part-time workers rather than casuals.
In question time, Labor cited moves by retail groups in the Fair Work Commission to vary awards to exempt supervisors and managers from penalty rates as a foretaste of changes to enterprise agreements that could be enabled by the bill.
The Australian Financial Review first reported on Wednesday that the Australian and national retailers associations want to exempt workers earning 25% more than the award minimum from penalty rates.
Labor’s Tony Burke suggested mid-level retail managers working mornings and weekends could see take-home pay cuts of more than $10,000 as a result of the changes.
In a statement the attorney general, Christian Porter, said the claim was “100% wrong” because the retailers’ submission related to an existing FWC review of awards, not the government bill.
The post 2021-02-02 07:53:02 | One Nation warns Coalition on workplace changes as Labor ramps up attack | Industrial relations
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