jennifer westacott
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Scott Morrison wants businesses and unions to “drop their weapons” and come up with a new industrial relations system. Easier said than done. 

Here are some of the sticking points that threaten to put tribalism back on the table.

Better off overall test

One of the biggest points of contention is the better off overall test, or the BOOT, that ensures workers cannot be worse off in any changes to enterprise agreements. 

Employer groups want to weaken the test, with the Business Council of Australia (BCA) saying it should return to the looser “no disadvantage test” that was in place under WorkChoices. BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott last year said the BOOT was a “productivity killer”.

Unions oppose this, saying it would allow employers to pay people less than current legal minimums. When asked about the test, Morrison said he would leave it to employers and unions. 

Simplified awards

“Simplifying awards” has become shorthand for reducing the scope or value of the award safety net. The BCA wants to see awards simplified to the point they only deal with nine employment conditions. The number of awards has already been cut from more than 2000 in 2006, to just 121 today. This is one area where some common ground might become apparent. 

Casual and insecure work

Unions have long campaigned against rising levels of casual insecure work in Australia, which has been exposed by the crisis. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has criticised the government for failing to include short-term casual workers in the JobKeeper scheme. A recent Federal Court ruling has fallen in their favour, finding that — despite being employed as “casuals” and having a 25% pay loading — workers on regular and predictable hours for years with one company were legally permanent employees. Business groups say this will put small businesses out of business as they will be unable to hire staff. 

Fair Work Commission

Employer groups want to scale back the power of the Fair Work Commission to regulate wages and conditions. The mining employer association, the Australian Mines and Metals Association, has previously said the commission should be abolished. The ACTU has previously said the FWC has lost its independence and needs more teeth.

Peter Fray

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