Small business groups are backing a push by industry to have temporary industrial relations changes reinstated in a bid to support employers through the country’s latest wave of coronavirus lockdowns.
Alexi Boyd, interim chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), says bringing back temporary flexibilities in the Fair Work Act would bring clarity to small business owners facing tough decisions.
“It’s about making the laws fit the strange environment that we’re operating in right now,” Boyd tells SmartCompany.
Boyd says any amendments to the Fair Work Act need to keep up with business support measures that federal and state governments have introduced in response to lockdowns across different states.
“We don’t want small business advisors scrambling to make sure business owners know what they should or shouldn’t do,” she says.
Chief executives from seven industry groups released a joint statement this week, saying federal and state government support is incomplete without temporary industrial relations flexibilities in the Fair Work Act.
Among the chief executives who signed on to the statement are Jenny Lambert, acting chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Paul Zahra of the Australian Retailers Association, and Wes Lambert of Restaurant and Catering.
“Businesses will be able to more readily maintain existing staffing levels if they are supported with the necessary workplace relations flexibilities,” they said in the joint statement.
Last year, the federal government amended the Fair Work Act in response to the pandemic, allowing employers to reduce staff hours, partially stand down workers, vary duties and locations, as well as request staff take annual leave.
Business groups said those provisions were essential in allowing employers to “maintain a connection to their employees” through a period when many businesses would have become unviable.
According to an independent review, the temporary changes to the Fair Work Act slowed the loss of jobs and decline in wages during the initial COVID-19 economic shock.
The review found close to 94% of businesses found the temporary changes important or essential to maintaining their business operations.
“We need these flexibilities urgently reinstated alongside government financial support in order to ensure businesses have the necessary tools available to keep as many employees in jobs as possible,” the business groups said in their joint statement.
“Being able to kickstart a business after partial shutdown or hibernation with the same employees on board will make all the difference.”
The seven business groups are calling on the federal government to reintroduce similar flexibilities into the Fair Work Act when Parliament resumes in a fortnight.