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Employment Law Experts Warn Government’s IR Changes Will Hurt Workers

Employment law experts warn government’s IR changes will hurt workers

Employment law experts warn the government’s proposed industrial relations changes will hurt workers.

They argue the reforms will tear a hole in the safety net, stifle wage growth, in addition to increasing casualisation and insecure work.

All this at a time when the economy needs charging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employment lawyers warn IR changes will hurt workers

University of Adelaide professor Andrew Stewart is leading the group of 23 labour law experts making a submission to a Senate inquiry.

They argue proposed changes to enterprise agreements and awards provide a mechanism to cut wages.

Professor Stewart told The Australian Financial Review:

“All those changes plus the agreement-making changes seem to us to send a message to employers that the way to recover from the recession that the pandemic has caused is to do so as the expense of your workers and do so by driving wages down.

“Even if that helps individual employers … it is sending entirely the wrong message at a time when the governor of the Reserve Bank is saying the economy needs wages to be growing to underpin more sustainable growth.”

Proposed exemptions to the better-off-overall test in exceptional circumstances also concern the employment law experts. 

Professor Stewart said the provisions will apply beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to operate indefinitely until terminated.

“Our problem is it’s creating a big hole in the safety net which employers are being invited to squeeze through,” he said.

Casual workers

In addition to the better-off-overall test, changing the definition and rules around casual employment concern the academics. 

Currently, the Fair Work Act does not define what is a casual worker.

Many companies and labour-hire firms have engaged workers on a casual basis so they don’t have to pay leave entitlements.

This is despite the workers performing a regular pattern of work over extended periods of time.

The Bill comes as a result of a Federal Court ruling that held long-term regular casuals are entitled to permanent benefits such as leave.

The decision exposed employers to billions of dollars in back-pay to casual workers who have already received a leave loading.

The new law will prevent casual workers from “double-dipping”.

Professor Stewart is calling for rules to stop employers deliberately misclassifying workers to avoid paying entitlements.

“Employers should not have a shield when they know or should reasonably know they’re misclassifying casuals,” he said.

More criticism

The proposed changes have also received other high-profile criticism.

Fair Work Commission president Iain Ross slammed a proposed 21-day deadline to approve agreements as risking “unintended” consequences.

Employer groups argue that if the bill is not passed it will reduce business confidence in hiring and drag out the economic recovery.

However, ACTU secretary Sally McManus scoffed at that suggestion.

She slammed proposed changes which will allow employers to offer casual workers more hours without overtime or penalty rates.

“If we do what the government is doing, and that is to reduce wages, to make jobs more insecure, we’ll spend less and that’s not going to be good for the economic recovery,” she told the ABC.

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