Government and crossbench respond to industry calls to split contentious workplace relations bill

Australia’s peak retail body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), has welcomed eleventh-hour concessions by the Federal Government to split its Closing Loopholes Bill but raised concerns that deep flaws remain in the bill and several contentious measures will also be passed today without adequate scrutiny.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra welcomed the Government’s act of compromise but reiterated that retailers remain concerned about the decision-making process, with some controversial components being rushed through without scrutiny and due process.

“The ARA was one of the first groups to call for this bill to be split due to significant concerns around the proposed changes to casuals in particular. We are pleased the Government heeded calls to bring forward some of the sensible, common-sense measures allowing more time to debate some of the controversial measures.

“However, the expedition of new labour hire regulations and union delegate rights without a reasonable process of exploration is concerning.

“These contentious measures should have had the opportunity to be scrutinised by the Parliament because as it stands, they will add cost, complexity and disruption for businesses – at a time when many simply can’t afford it.”

The ARA rigorously campaigned for broadly supported components of the legislation to be split from the omnibus bill tabled by the Government in September 2023. Pleasingly, it is expected that these measures – the small business redundancy exemption, anti-discrimination measures for victim-survivors of family and domestic violence, and workplace health and safety improvements – will all be passed today.

The ARA also supported the criminalisation of intentional and deliberate wage theft, which is also expected to pass today.

However, two measures that the ARA does not support are also expected to pass: union delegate rights and changes to labour hire arrangements.

“The ARA has fought long and hard to have the sensible measures of this Bill brought forward, and so we commend Senators Lambie and Pocock for the positive role they played in todays’ events.

“While the Government compromise will bring forward a number of reasonable measures, it has also brought forward the passage of counter-productive components such as changes to labour hire regulations and union delegate access rights.

“The labour hire reforms threaten productivity, increase complexity and limit the creation of secure jobs. They desperately required more scrutiny and consultation as part of the broader Bill.

“The inclusion of union delegate rights will add costs and disruption for businesses – at a time when many simply can’t afford it. While we respect the role that union delegates play in the workplace, employers shouldn’t be expected to write blank checks to fund union activities.

“Retailers are already navigating the implementation of the largest set of workplace reforms in decades – many of them are small businesses without sufficient inhouse resources, expertise or legal support.”

Mr Zahra said it will now be vital that the proposed changes are incorporated with the least possible cost and disruption to business.

“For small businesses, who are often entirely focused on financial survival, significant workplace changes can be very difficult to prepare for. These businesses are already navigating the largest set of workplace reforms in decades,” Mr Zahra added.

“Many of the more significant aspects of the Bill which are not supported by the ARA – such as changes to casual conversion rules – will be held until next year. The Government must ensure it consults closely with industry groups to avoid unintended consequences for businesses.”

/Public Release. View in full here.