Retailers welcome concessions on Closing Loopholes, questions remain on casual conversion

Australia’s peak retail body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed amendments to the Closing Loopholes Bill secured by crossbench senators that address some significant concerns the retail sector had about the Bill.

However, the legislation still includes some confusing and potentially problematic provisions relating to the commencement date for the casual conversion process, which could be addressed if the crossbench agrees to adopt amendments put forward by the opposition this morning.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the ARA rigorously campaigned on behalf of retailers for many of the amendments put forward by Senator David Pocock and Senator Jacqui Lambie yesterday, and by Senator Michaelia Cash today.

“The amendments tabled by the senate crossbench address some of the negative impacts of this ill-conceived legislation, and we’re thankful for their constructive consultation and advocacy,” said Mr Zahra.

“The introduction of Closing Loopholes has been a tortured process, but we’re getting closer to the least-worst version of this legislation, vindicating the ARA’s original request to split the bill to allow for this debate.

“While this legislation will have far-reaching effects across the economy, our main concern through this whole saga has been the changes to casual work arrangements because of the important role that casual employees play in our sector.

“We think there is an opportunity to remove the remaining irritants in relation to the changes to casual work arrangements, by passing the oppositions’ amendments that provide greater clarity on when the changes to the casual conversion process would come into effect.

In its submission to the Closing Loopholes Senate Inquiry in October 2023, the ARA advocated for the removal of duplicate pathways for casual conversion, and recently appealed to government, opposition and crossbench to consider the implementation timelines of these changes.

“We welcome removal of the current employer-led conversion process, in favour of the employee-choice pathway. And we welcome the six-month deferral on commencement of these provisions, so our members have time to prepare for these changes.

“However, as it stands, it remains unclear how these two concessions will interact with each other and when these changes will actually take effect,” said Mr Zahra.

The ARA has been consistent and was one of the first to call for the original Bill to be split in October 2023 and has made a number of recommendations that will be included in the final version of the legislation, including:

  • allowing for an employee-initiated process for casual conversion;
  • removing the duplicative employer-led conversion process;
  • consideration for the implementation timelines;
  • making sure that an employment contract can still be considered when determining an employees’ work status;
  • ensuring that historical work patterns are not the only determining factor on whether an employee can convert to permanent; and
  • allowing employers the right to refuse conversion requests on fair and reasonable operational grounds.

“On balance, our assessment is that this was a poor process that has delivered a bad outcome.

“The only concession is that the Bill is not as bad as it could have been, thanks to the last-minute amendments put forward by the crossbench and opposition in the Senate.

“Hopefully passage of this legislation draws a line under the most significant workplace relations changes in more than a decade, so that government and industry can work together on more positive reforms that improve productivity, create more jobs and drive wages growth, instead of creating more rules, restrictions and red tape,” said Mr Zahra.

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