Wesfarmers leads retailers’ rejection of proposed new workplace laws

Australia’s retail industry has come out swinging against the government’s multi-employer bargaining proposal, with the chair of retail giant Wesfarmers saying it’s unclear how the process would drive productivity.

The government tabled its Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill to parliament on Thursday, outlining a range of industrial relations measures including allowing multi-employer bargaining to let employees across multiple similar businesses negotiate on pay and conditions.

Michael Chaney said in his remarks the multi-employer bargaining plan is cause for concern. Credit:Trevor Collens

In his address at Wesfarmers’ annual general meeting in Perth on Thursday, chairman Michael Chaney said the policy was cause for concern.

“This is significant industrial relations reform, and it should not be rushed. While the government is intending to incorporate some safeguards against unintended detrimental outcomes, we are concerned that it could result in more efficient, individual businesses being disadvantaged and a ‘lowest-common-denominator’ approach to wages,” he said.

“It’s unclear how the proposal drives productivity, which is always the foundation of wages growth.”

Wesfarmers said the government’s proposed changes to the ‘Better Off Overall Test’ (BOOT) in enterprise agreements were positive, but noted work had not yet been started on a plan to simplify the award system.

Industry group Australian Retailers Association (ARA) was also making its voice heard on multi-employer bargaining on Thursday, saying the reforms proposed were a “real concern for members”.

“For our smaller members, many of whom are still recovering from two years of disruption, they don’t have the resources to work through a costly and time-consuming bargaining process with other employers and multiple employee representatives,” chief executive Paul Zahra said.

“And we don’t believe that the prospect of bringing our larger members, and some of the country’s largest employers, all to the same bargaining table is fit-for-purpose or workable in the real world.”

The ARA said it was also supportive of proposed changes to the BOOT test, as well as measures for ensuring gender pay equity.

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