Australia to Pass Watered-Down Industrial Relations Legislation

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Australia’s parliament is expected to pass watered down industrial relations legislation on Thursday after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition failed to secure enough support from non-government Senators for most of the proposed changes.

The legislation was designed to overhaul processes including:

  • Changing the award system to potentially give employers more power to reduce part-time workers’ wages and conditions
  • Increasing penalties for wage theft by employers
  • Changing the bargaining processes between employers and workers
  • Doubling the length of agreements between workers and employers at new, major projects to 8 years

In the end, the Senate only passed changes to the way casual employees are defined, potentially increasing the back-pay liabilities of some businesses. That will become law after it’s voted on in the lower house, where the government has a majority.

The conservative government said the bill wasn’t ideologically based and was aimed to streamline the bargaining system between workers and employers to help drive up wages and productivity.

Morrison didn’t say Thursday whether he would try again in the future to pass the proposed changes.

The Liberal-National coalition has avoided making industrial relations a centerpiece policy, after former Prime Minister John Howard’s overhaul of labor laws, known as “WorkChoices,” contributed to its 2007 election defeat. The coalition has been back in power since 2013.

The union movement has been in decline in Australia for decades, with membership falling from 51% of the workforce in 1976 to 14% by 2016.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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