PM eyes major industrial relations reform

Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)


Simplifying awards and fixing enterprise bargaining will be key priorities in the Morrison government’s push for consensus-driven workplace reforms.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter will chair five working groups aimed at finding agreement between employer groups, unions and government.

The groups will investigate streamlining awards, which outline minimum pay and conditions, and getting “back to basics” on enterprise bargaining.

The definition of casual work is also set to be reviewed after a Federal Court ruling last week confirmed long-term employees are entitled to leave entitlements.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said another group would look at compliance and enforcement on both sides of the worker-boss ledger.

“People should be paid properly and unions need to obviously do the right thing – as must employers,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Tuesday.

Pay deals for the life of major projects will also be examined, with the concept floated on both sides of politics in recent years.

Aside from employer and union representatives, the groups will include hand-picked experts from small businesses, rural and regional backgrounds, multicultural communities, women and families.

The process is expected to run until September.

“The working groups will either reach something approaching a consensus on issues or they won’t. But we’ve got to give it a go,” Mr Morrison said.

“Ultimately it will be the government that will take forward a job-making agenda from this process.”

Employer groups have complained about the complexity of awards, while workers have been ripped off across sectors in wage underpayment scandals.

Enterprise bargaining has been in sharp decline in recent years, almost three decades after it was introduced to negotiate above-award pay and conditions in return for productivity gains.

Mr Morrison is hoping to capitalise on the collaboration between the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the coalition during the coronavirus pandemic.

As a sign of good faith, the government has shelved union-busting legislation designed to crack down on militant law-breaking.

“Everybody’s got to put their weapons down on this,” the prime minister said.

“Australians will take a very dim view of anyone, or any group, or any organisation, that isn’t prepared to come and sit down on this table.”

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said there was more to workplace reforms than getting people around a table.

“The idea that a Liberal government is about to engage in industrial relations reform will send a chill down the spine of every Australian worker,” he told reporters.

Mr Morrison took aim at complacency in industrial relations, saying unions looked for marginal benefits while employers closed down risks.

“It is a system that has to date retreated to tribalism, conflict and ideological posturing,” he said.


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