Businesses facing collapse due to COVID-19 would be allowed to cut workers’ pay under new laws introduced to parliament.
The federal government said the omnibus legislation was designed to help businesses who are still struggling during the pandemic.
It would allow the Fair Work Commission to approve workplace agreements in “exceptional circumstances”, even if they don’t abide 100 per cent by current statutory limitations.
Such agreements could include pay cuts, reduced or increased hours.
Employees would have to agree to the changes before the new agreement is approved.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the new laws would allowed businesses on the brink of collapse to remain open and keep as many people on the payroll.
But Labor and the Australian Council of Trade Unions rejected the changes, saying they were too extreme and arguing that the definition of “impacted by COVID” was too broad.
They have warned that some employers would take advantage of the legislation and draw up dodgy agreements that would see workers’ pays cut unnecessarily.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said employers would rush to cut wages in a similar vein to the Howard-era WorkChoices laws.
“These changes are dangerous and extreme. WorkChoices allowed employers to cut wages, and this proposal will do that as well,” she said.
“Working people, essential workers, have already sacrificed so much during this pandemic. These proposed laws will punish them.”
But employer groups have backed the plan, with Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson calling it an important first step.
“This is critical to keeping businesses trading rather than insolvent and keep people in work and off the unemployment queues,” he said.
Porter said the “door was open” for amendments, with the laws not expected to pass parliament until early 2021.
– With AAP