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Government backs down as watered-down IR bill passes Senate

The federal government passed its industrial relations bill through Parliament but had to abandon many of its key elements to ensure it received the required crossbench support.

Government backs down as watered-down IR bill passes Senate
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  • Adrian Flores
  • March 19, 2021
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The IR Omnibus Bill was introduced to Parliament in December last year and introduced provisions regarding casual work, wage theft, award simplification, enterprise bargaining and greenfields agreements.

The final bill passed the Senate by 35 votes to 33; however, following votes on a range of amendments introduced by the Labor opposition and the crossbench, only the provisions around casual work passed the Senate in the end.

Under the reforms, employers will work with a new definition of casual employment and will have less liability for misclassifying casual workers. On the other hand, casual employees will have more rights to ask for permanent work from their employers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison pinned the blame on Labor for the changes to the bill.

“The Labor Party opposed all of those measures, all those measures, including those they now pretend to support. You can’t have an each-way bet on this,” Mr Morrison said.

Earlier, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia also reached an agreement that would allow casual workers to continue making backpay claims for permanent entitlements.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Jenny Lambert opposed the amendments proposed by the ACTU and COSBOA, calling it a “one-sided proposal”.

“The deal would continue to expose small business owners to double dipping claims by casuals of up to $39 billion and fails to deliver small businesses the certainty they need,” Ms Lambert said.

“The proposed amendments reflect a naivety as to the implications on business.”

The ACTU/COSBOA proposal eventually fell through, but not without a rift forming between members of key crossbench party the Centre Alliance.

The Centre Alliance’s lone lower house member, Rebekha Sharkie, said in a statement that the party agreed to support both stronger laws against wage theft and the casual changes as a package, subject to amendments crafted by the ACTU and COSBOA.

That put Ms Sharkie at odds with her party colleague senator Stirling Griff, who voted with the government and One Nation in rejecting the proposal.

“I cannot support a package that doesn’t include wage theft provisions for workers,” Ms Sharkie said.

“Where this landed is totally unacceptable. The government’s decision not to support an agreement by COSBOA and the unions was completely wrong, so I categorically will not be supporting an amended bill in my chamber.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said working people have worked tirelessly to defeat the worst aspects of the bill.

“The decision to remove the elements of this bill which would have increased penalties for employers committing wage theft and made it easier for workers to claim stolen wages back is a spiteful act by a government which refuses to act in the interests of working people,” Ms McManus said.

To view all the details in the final IR Omnibus Bill that passed the Senate, click here.

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