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‘Immediate action’ on Fair Work Act

Wages are on the rise despite inflationary pressures on budgets after recent rises, says Tony Burke.

Wages are on the rise despite inflationary pressures on budgets after recent rises, says Tony Burke. Photo: AAP

Removing “unnecessary limitations” to single and multi-employer agreements has been flagged as a priority action item at the jobs and skills summit.

Speaking at the summit on Thursday, Employment Minister Tony Burke identified issues with the Fair Work Act he hoped to address immediately.

These included providing better access to flexible work arrangements and unpaid parental leave so families can share work and caring responsibilities.

The government also committed to setting up a forum to bring together unions, businesses and government to solve issues in the construction industry, such as mental health and safety.

He also pointed to areas of ongoing work, including improving the awards system.

Both unions and business groups agreed the industrial relations system is failing workers and businesses but the prospect of invigorating collective bargaining remains a sticking point.

To get wages moving, Australian Council of Trade Unions head Sally McManus said the country needed new modern options for bargaining alongside enterprise bargaining, including multi-employer or sector-wide bargaining.

Business Council of Australia president Tim Reed reiterated the organisation’s preference to focus on fixing bargaining at the enterprise level.

“If we really want to sustainably get real wages growing, we need to consistently get productivity improvements,” he said.

Mr Reed called for an industrial relations system that enhances innovation and productivity, and said that “primarily happens at the enterprise level”.

The two groups have found common ground on several issues in the lead-up to the summit, releasing their shared goals for the event on Thursday.

The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia also agreed on shared priorities with the ACTU, including an open discussion on collective bargaining.

COSBOA chief executive Alexi Boyd clarified her position at the summit, telling attendees she did not support any measures that would “force, mandate or remove the autonomy of small businesses” and was “not interested in sector-wide compulsory” deals.

On the ACTU’s suggestion to enable more multi-employer or sector-based bargaining, Ai Group boss Innes Willox said he was not convinced of the need for “radical or risky” reform.

“There is real concern that such a proposal will risk exposing our community to crippling industrial action across crucial sectors of our economy, and nobody wants that,” he said.

Industrial relations expert Anthony Forsyth said limiting workplace agreements to single entities ignored how businesses had evolved since the early 1990s.

He said the rise of labour hire, outsourcing, franchising and other business models “enabled lead to exert significant economic power over the wages and conditions of workers down the chain, but avoid ever having to negotiate with them”.

A major training package has also been launched at the summit, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announcing an additional 180,000 fee-free TAFE places to be created by 2023.

Mr Albanese said the $1.1 billion package would be jointly funded by federal, state and territory governments.

Opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan warned of the unintended consequences of boosting fee-free training.

“Well, nothing’s for free – let’s just make that clear – ultimately, the Australian taxpayer pays for it,” Mr Tehan told Sky News.

He also questioned how private vocational providers would be affected.

“Do you put them out of business by offering free places for TAFE? Or are we going to do something for the private providers as well?”

– AAP

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