Fair or unfair? Work act changes under fire

tug of war

Fair Work amendments “fail Australian workers” and won’t boost jobs or pay in pharmacy, opposition claims

The federal government’s proposed fair work amendments bill has come under sustained criticism from opposition MPs in Parliament this week. 

According to the government, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 is “about urgent industrial relations reform. Like so much of the Morrison government’s work, it’s about protecting jobs and creating jobs. It’s about boosting wages and enhancing productivity. It’s about synergy for employees and employers. It’s about our national economic growth”

The bill will apply to a number of awards, including the General Retail Industry Award 2020 and the Pharmacy Industry Award 2020.

Speaking in the House of Representatives this week, Angie Bell (LNP, Moncrieff, Qld) said “this bill sets out much-needed incremental reform on the award system. Greater flexibility will be introduced
into awards in some of our hardest-hit sectors. This will drive retail and hospitality jobs..”.

“This bill brings employers and part-time employees together in the economically vulnerable retail and
hospitality sectors, as I mentioned, to work together to agree on additional hours of work for part-time employees who want them,” she said.

“This will help to increase working hours and wages and encourage employers to offer more permanent, secure roles with benefits, including paid sick leave, over traditionally more flexible forms of employment like casual roles.”

However, Opposition MPs have heavily criticised the bill, saying the “legislation failed Australian workers”.

Opposition Whip Anne Stanley (Werriwa, NSW) said “the fact is that workers will have fewer rights and these rights will be filled with qualifications,” she said.

“The new amendment to the Fair Work Act states that an employer must offer full-time employment to the
employee, the employee must also be employed with that business for at least 12 months, and must have worked at least six months on an ongoing basis. 

“These changes may be subtle, yet the underlying issues are written between the lines. An employee must complete 12 months of service. However, an employee would be working permanent full-time hours up to a year and still be labelled as a casual employee under this legislation,” Ms Stanley said. 

“That doesn’t give any power to the employee. The employee must also work on a regular pattern of hours on an ongoing basis, but most employees don’t have control over the hours they work. Therefore, it is the employer who is in control of the so-called regular pattern of hours on an ongoing basis.

Also, the employee must work these regular hours on an ongoing basis without ‘significant adjustment’. This allows the employer to easily declare that workloads will be changing, therefore constituting a significant adjustment”.

With this legislation, the government was “making it easier for businesses to employ people as casuals even when they work like permanent workers makes employees worse off. Changes to part-time work that will effectively end up casualising it makes employees worse off.”

Both Ms Stanley and Justine Elliot (Richmond, Qld) pointed out that previous award amendments had not boosted employment in impacted sectors. 

“We all remember when this government last cut penalty rates for retail, fast food, pharmacy and hospitality workers. At the time the government very falsely claimed it would create new jobs. Well, it created none—not a single extra job. Even business groups now admit that,” Mrs Elliot said.

“Now the government expects us to believe that cutting penalties rates more, cutting overtime, cutting shift loading and cutting allowances will actually create jobs”.

Pharmacist and MP Emma McBride (ALP, Dobell, NSW) said Labor would legislate to make job security an pbject of the Fair Work Act, and would also “extend the powers of the Fair Work Commission to include employee-like forms of work, allowing it to better protect people in new forms of work from exploitation and dangerous working conditions.

We would legislate a fair and objective test to determine when a worker can be classified as a casual, so people have a clearer pathway to permanent work”.

She pointed out that many workers in the health care sector would be caught up in the reforms, putting them at even more risk of job insecurity, working across multiple workplaces “which, particularly in the time of COVID-19, presents a very real risk to them and the people they’re trying to support”.

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