One month after the introduction of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay industrial relations reform bill into the House of Representatives, Independent ACT Senator David Pocock has struck a wide-ranging agreement with the Albanese Government to secure his support for the amended legislation.
The agreement will see the government support numerous amendments to the legislation to address concerns by a wide-range of stakeholders, from small businesses to low paid workers.
Importantly, and key to Senator Pocock’s support, it also includes a commitment from the government to establish, in legislation, an expert advisory committee, led by the Treasurer and Minister for Social Services, to review the adequacy of support payments annually ahead of each federal budget, and publish their recommendations.
Senator Pocock said taken together, all of these measures will strike the right balance between ensuring people start receiving long overdue wage rises, maintaining productivity and protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.
“This is now a substantially different bill to the one introduced in the House of Representatives a month ago. It is better for business, better for workers and makes sure the most vulnerable in our community are no longer left behind,” Senator Pocock said.
“I have worked with the government to push them as far as they would go, and then a step further to ensure they addressed key concerns raised with me.
“This legislation introduces significant reforms to Australia’s industrial relations system that will benefit women and low paid workers in particular.
“There are now additional safeguards in place for business, especially small businesses, and some important new powers to better protect the low paid and those reliant on government support.
“In what I believe will be a game changer for people living below the poverty line in our country, the government will now also receive independent expert advice that is made publicly available before each federal budget looking at how the most vulnerable in our community are faring and what needs to change to ensure we don’t leave them behind.
“Given the pace at which this legislation has moved, my concern has been to ensure stakeholders are heard and any issues addressed. Along with my team we have worked incredibly hard to hear from those who will be affected by it and balance the concerns to help secure a better bill.
“I went into this seeking to get the best policy outcome, balancing the urgent need for workers to get a pay rise, with legislation that will work in practice by delivering pay rises for those that need it while not placing unreasonable burdens on small businesses.
“I believe we have achieved the right balance, significantly improving the legislation with the added commitment that will help stop governments leaving our most vulnerable behind.
“I acknowledge the tough but fair negotiations with the government that have got us to this point.
“I thank the Prime Minister and Minister Burke for their constructive engagement and the many, many workers and businesses, along with their representatives, who have come to me over the past month.
“I also pay tribute to the efforts and advocacy of Members in the lower house as well as community advocates who have championed many of these reforms for years.”
Commitments agreed with Government are summarised below:
- A commitment from the Prime Minister to establish a new independent Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee led by the Treasurer and Social Services Minister to review the adequacy of support payments annually ahead of each federal budget, and publish any recommendations.
- A commitment from the Prime Minister to consider and respond to the recommendations of the Murray Review within this Term of Government to better protect subcontractors.
- A commitment from the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister to review modern awards.
- Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees based on headcount (and excluding seasonal workers and other irregular casuals) will be excluded from the single-interest multi-enterprise bargaining stream.
- The Government will undertake a statutory review no later than two years after the passage of the bill
- The ‘grace period’ during which a single-interest multi-enterprise bargaining authorisation can be granted from six to nine months.
- Introduce a new reasonable comparability threshold into the common interest test.
- Introduce new safeguards for businesses that have fewer than 50 employees based on headcount wanting to exit multi-enterprise bargaining and with the onus of proving a common interest on the applicant for these businesses.
- Increase the 'minimum bargaining period' for the purpose of intractable bargaining declaration from six to nine months.
Require conciliation to take place before arbitration over working arrangements unless there are exceptional circumstances.
- Remove the right to veto an agreement by allowing the Fair Work Commission to compel a multi-enterprise agreement to be put to a vote regardless of whether employee organisations agree and prevent parties unreasonably withholding agreement.
- Carve out civil construction from all streams of multi-enterprise bargaining.
Give the Minister a new power to declare an industry or occupation eligible for the supported (previously low paid) bargaining stream.
Make it much easier for firefighters, including volunteer firefighters, to access workers compensation benefits for seven additional cancers, including women's reproductive cancers.
- Task the new National Construction Industry Forum with providing advice to government on measures that will ensure contractors are paid accurately and in a timely manner in the construction industry.
Provided the Government delivers on all commitments listed above, Senator Pocock will support the passage of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022.
Further details around the agreed proposal for the new expert advisory committee will be released separately. An interim committee will be established by the end of 2022 with a first report to be provided ahead of the 2023 federal budget and the permanent committee being legislated next year.