Industry groups say Abbott government has “no time to waste” to fix penalty rates

Industry groups say Abbott government has “no time to waste” to fix penalty rates

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox will today call on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to take action and address the issue of penalty rates, arguing small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open.

In a speech to be given this afternoon at the Australian Labour and Employment Relations Association conference, Willox will warn the government businesses are becoming increasingly impatient to achieve redress on industrial relations issues.

In a copy of the speech seen by SmartCompany, Willox deems the Abbott government’s first 12 months in office as a “period of slow progress”.

“One year of the government’s term has almost passed but the window for reform is narrowing,” says Willox.

“There is no time to waste if significant progress is to be achieved during this term of Parliament in restoring balance to Australia’s workplace relations laws and achieving a more productive, flexible and fair workplace relations system.” 

Willox is expected to call on the federal government to repeal penalty rate legislation introduced by the Rudd government, arguing the laws make it harder for employers to negotiate the reduction of penalty rates in appropriate cases.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told SmartCompany he strongly supports any call for the government to act on penalty rates.

“Quite honestly, if something is not done about penalty rates soon, Australia will become totally uncompetitive with rest of the word,” says Zimmerman.

“If we don’t do this, this country will fall further behind.”

While Zimmerman says the hospitality sector this week had a small win on the issue, he says retailers are consistently complaining about being unable to trade on Sundays and says there needs to be urgent reform on the issue.

He says retailers are now paying more than 100% penalties to trade on a Sunday and believes inaction will lead to mass youth unemployment and retailers being forced to illegally pay “under the counter”.

Willox is also expected to ask the government to retain the existing paid parental leave scheme and not introduce its multi-billion dollar policy funded by employers.

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany small business see the new paid parental scheme as nightmare.

But Strong says the blame for inaction on industrial relations reform does not necessarily rest with the Abbott government.

“The problem is with Palmer,” says Strong, referring to Senator Clive Palmer’s move to block key budget reforms.

“The message for Palmer and the others is, we’ve had years of hung parliaments and inaction,” says Strong. “Business needs more certainty.”

Strong believes Palmer does not “get” small business and says he has repeatedly declined to meet with COSBOA.

In today’s speech, Willox will also address other industrial relations issues including union right of entry laws and changes to bargaining laws to promote productivity improvements.

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