The ARA’s employment relations expert Nick Tindley recently made an appearance to the Senate Inquiry looking into the Albanese government’s Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023.
Here’s what he said in his opening address to committee members.
Thank you Senators for the opportunity to appear in front of the committee today.
I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, learn and live. And pay my respects to Elders, past and present.
The Australian Retailers Association is the oldest, largest and most diverse national retail body, representing a $420 billion sector that employs 1.4 million Australians – making retail the largest private sector employer in the country.
The ARA supports an equitable workplace relations system that balances the needs of employees against the needs of employers while driving productivity, creation of secure jobs and wages growth.
This underpins our sector’s ability to ensure that retail businesses remain resilient in the face of significant economic headwinds and retain the flexibility they need to respond to changing trading conditions.
The changes outlined in the Closing Loopholes legislation represent the next phase of the most significant change to the workplace relations system in more than a decade.
There are a number of measures in this Bill that we do not oppose including
– Family and domestic violence protections
– Registered organisation amalgamation withdrawals
– Intentional underpayment compliance
– Workplace Health and Safety changes
– Enterprise bargaining changes; and
– Small business redundancy exemptions
However, we are concerned about other aspects of the legislation.
We do not support the provisions in relation to redefinition of casual work in their current form because they will inhibit flexibility for both employees and employers.
These changes could create a disincentive for retailers to engage seasonal casuals on short-term, fixed work patterns during peak trading periods, which are often to the mutual benefit of both employer and employee.
In respect of casual conversion, data and insights from our members suggest that most casuals working in the retail sector do not want to convert to permanent employment.
The ARA does not support the proposed reforms in relation to labour hire arrangements and we urge the Senate not to pass the legislation if these provisions remain in the Bill.
Labour hire provide a temporary or surge workforce in periods of peak demand, or a skilled and experienced workforce for areas that are not core business, like warehousing and logistics.
There is no evidence to suggest that retailers use labour hire for illegitimate purposes, like underpaying workers or circumventing award conditions.
We also do not support the changes to Union right of entry and delegate rights and urge the Senate not to pass the legislation if these provisions remain in the Bill.
There is no justification for unions being granted access to a workplace without notice where there is no threat of destruction, concealment, or alteration of evidence in relation to the suspected underpayment of wages.
We don’t support the changes to Employee-like gig economy workers which the government has already conceded will likely push up prices for consumers.
And we do not support Establishing the Road Transport Advisory Group which is effectively re-establishing the Road Safety and Remuneration Tribunal, which was abolished after being found to have grave social consequences for small businesses and assessed to be unable to increase road safety by numerous independent reports.
If passed in their current form, these provisions will drive uncertainty, increase costs, and create a more complex regulatory environment for the industry, without any material uplift in productivity, wages growth or job creation.
These provisions also seem to be at odds with the Employment White Paper, which positions productivity growth and full employment as key objectives.
It seems counterintuitive to push for a more inclusive and flexible labour market through the White Paper whilst simultaneously introducing legislation that will increase complexity for employers and make it harder to improve productivity, create jobs or deliver wages growth.
As noted, there are several elements in the proposed legislation that the ARA does not oppose and enjoy bi-partisan support. We therefore support the legislation being split into multiple bills to ensure the swift passage of the non-contested elements. This would allow time for the scrutiny needed on those aspects of the Bill that the ARA, along with many other stakeholders do not support.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear today.