War of words as workplace changes become law

Govt's wage growth pledge as workplace laws pass

The federal government is heralding the passage of its major workplace reforms as a win for workers, saying it will put upwards pressure on wages after a decade of stagnation.

The Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill passed in Senate late on Thursday and was rubber-stamped by the government-controlled chamber on Friday, with 78 votes for and 42 against.

But it came as debate raged over whether workers had just got their best Christmas gift in more than a decade or if businesses had had their stockings stuffed with coal.

Employment Minister Tony Burke said passing the laws signalled the day parliament decided to get wages moving.

“After a decade of deliberate wage suppression under the Liberals and Nationals, Australian workers need a pay rise and these new laws will deliver,” he said.

The laws would simplify bargaining, put an end to exploitative job ads promoting work for less than the legal minimum, and stop pay secrecy clauses, the minister said.

They will also put gender pay equity into the Fair Work Act.

The government plans to deliver a second round of workplace reforms next year to close loopholes undermining job security and wage growth.

Union bosses were full of praise for the changes, ACTU president Michele O’Neil labelling them a “significant step towards fixing our broken bargaining system”.

“This bill should be a cause for celebration for Australian workers who have been waiting a decade for a pay rise, and have been struggling through deep real wage cuts,” she said.

“Millions of working people will be on a more even footing in negotiations with their employers, and able to take advantage of a new, modern system which is fit for purpose in our economy.”

But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton maintained his objection to the reforms and said they were not about workers but about unions.

“This is a very significant return on the down payment the union movement has made to the Labor party for the last 15 years,” Mr Dutton said.

“The juvenile argument that somehow [the Coalition] are against wage rises … is complete nonsense.”

The Coalition has argued the multi-employer bargaining component of the bill will force undue costs on small businesses that don’t want new work agreements and can’t afford them.

Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees will be excluded from single-interest multi-enterprise bargaining while those with fewer than 50 will have extra safeguards if they want to opt out of multi-employer bargaining.

The opposition failed in its attempt to get the exemption threshold increased to 200 employees.

Mr Albanese invoked Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, calling Mr Dutton “the ghost of WorkChoices past” – referring to the controversial Howard government industrial reforms.

“Today is a win for the heroes of the pandemic: The cleaners, the disability workers, the aged care workers, the early childhood educators,” he said.

“They got our thanks but they deserve more than that. They deserve better conditions and better pay.”

The Greens supported the bill through both houses of parliament.

Independent MPs Kylea Tink and Allegra Spender voted against the bill, the latter taking issue with the multi-employer bargaining provisions.

She failed in a push for it to be an opt-in model at first, which could be reviewed in a year.

“I hope for the sake of the country that [multi-employer bargaining] makes the difference in terms of wages … but I will be holding the government to account in terms of making sure this works for businesses,” she said.

Labor also abolished the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which it said has become politicised and ineffective.

-with AAP

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