IR reforms could see higher casual wages for retail and hospitality workers

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

The federal government is expected to introduce an industrial relations reform package to parliament next week, in a move that could see a new definition of casual work, and result in a higher rate of pay for retail and hospitality workers.

The package of reforms reportedly includes changes to the definition of casual and fixed-term employees, a shorter timeframe for the Fair Work Commission to agree to enterprise agreements, and the establishment of new workplace agreements for industries related to mines, gas fields and other major infrastructure.

The federal government has also flagged changes to the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), which is the test the Fair Work Commission uses to ensure employees are better off under registered enterprise agreements compared to the relevant industry award.

Speaking at a Business Council of Australia event this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that while the reforms are intended to simplify the industrial relations system and maximise jobs, they are unlikely to draw praise from unions or business.

“I don’t expect our reforms will elicit delirious applause,” he said.

“There won’t be sweeping praise from the union movement and businesses won’t see their version of an industrial utopia either.”

Morrison said that the BOOT would not be entirely removed, but it would become less rigid than its current form.

Unions have said the Morrison government is likely to propose a loaded rates system for four awards whereby employers pay a higher hourly rate instead of a range of rates that factor in penalties and other allowances. The new system would cover retail, hospitality restaurants and licenced clubs, reported The Australian on Thursday.

The proposals are also expected to require the Fair Work Commission to approve enterprise agreements within 21 days. This has drawn criticism from unions, which say the limited timeframe will inhibit their ability to postpone the approval of some agreements.

While the legislation will be introduced to parliament in the final sitting week of the year, Labor has indicated it will send the bill to a Senate committee to delay any parliamentary votes on the reform package until 2021, according to The Australian Financial Review.

The reform package comes after Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter conducted a review into Australia’s industrial relations system, announced after 2019 federal election. The review was intended to simplify and modernise the industrial relations system.

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