Queensland’s Attorney-General has threatened to return more than 300,000 small business employees to the state industrial relations system if the Commonwealth proceeds with its plan to force state governments to pay contractors the same as their own public servants.
Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said the state was “seriously considering” applying to get back some of the industrial relations powers referred to the Commonwealth under Anna Bligh, according to reports in The Australian.
He said small businesses had told the Queensland Government that they were “finding it hard to work under the Fair Work Act” and accused the Federal Government of trying to “trash the relationship” with the state.
Under the proposal, Bleijie said workers could be employed by the affected small businesses either under a series of state awards or one state award instrument.
But Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia, told SmartCompany while Queensland’s concerns about the federal system were understandable, small businesses were not keen to return to multiple jurisdictions.
“Don’t bring in another system; fix the current one,” he says.
“It’s silly. We have got a national system and while there is no doubt we want changes to the Fair Work Act, let’s have one system we can change.”
Strong says having different systems for all the states and territories was “a nightmare” for small business.
“It’s a lot cheaper to manage the [federal] system and it is less confusing for the employers. There’s a million small business employers out there and none of them are paymasters, so let’s keep it simple,” he says.
Strong dismissed the disagreement between the Queensland Government and Federal Government as “just pettiness”.
“It’s an ideological war between the states and the Federal Government and when that happens the people who suffer are the small businesses and the employees,” he says.
If Queensland carries through with its threat it will reverse the ongoing trend for state governments to hand their private sector industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth.
A spokesperson for Bill Shorten, Federal minister for workplace relations told SmartCompany the government’s announcement on Friday was simply about making sure the wages and conditions of public sector workers were not jeopardised by state governments trying to improve their bottom line.
“If the Queensland Government wants to call protecting the pay and conditions of Queensland public sector workers ‘state-bashing’ then I think that says it all,” the spokesperson says.
“These protections already exist in Victoria – and they sky has not fallen in there.”
The spokesperson says it wouldn’t be beneficial for Queensland small businesses to have to deal with multiple industrial relations systems and points to Access Economics which estimates that having a single, national industrial relations system for private companies in place has a net benefit to business and governments to the tune of over $4.8 billion over the next decade.
“The Queensland Government has sacked 14000 public sector workers without warning, and defunded the Fair Work Ombudsman who provide advice to small business and stops workers being ripped off,” the spokesperson said.
“This shows what the LNP’s approach to workplace relations is like – sacking workers and stripping them of their rights. It’s a curtain raiser to Tony Abbott should he ever win government.”