Big labour market changes headed your way

The new Federal government looks poised to make wide-ranging changes to the labour market, some of which could affect your business.

Many of these proposed changes were discussed at the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra at the beginning of September.

Some will be good news for small businesses, especially those battling skills shortages. Others may not be. Some may never see the light of day. Others have already found themselves on the government’s “immediate actions” list and are currently being consulted on.

Establishing Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) is a priority to drive vocational education and training.

The interim legislation for this was introduced to the Parliament on 27 July 2022 in a bid to address Australia’s skills crisis and improve productivity. Following consultation, the government will introduce a new Bill to establish JSA’s permanent functions, structure and governance arrangements.

The government says JSA will have a tripartite approach with state and territory governments, industry, employers, unions and training providers, and promote a training system that meets the needs of employees, employers and the economy.

To deal with Australia’s skills shortages, the government will also boost the permanent migration program planning level to 195,000 in 2022/23. And, to accelerate visa processing and resolve visa backlogs, it will provide $36.1 million in additional funding.

It will also increase the duration of post-study work rights by allowing two additional years of stay for recent graduates with select degrees in areas of verified skills shortages. And, it will extend the relaxation of work restrictions for student and training visa holders until 30 June 2023.

Other priorities include expanding the number of fee-free TAFE places available, helping aged pensioners stay longer in the workforce and increasing the employment opportunities and improving career pathways of people with a disability.

The government promised to make the Better Off Overall Test simpler, more flexible and fairer.

However, one item on the “immediate actions” list has caused some concern. The government will update Fair Work Act to give flexible options for agreements, removing limitations on single and multi-employer agreements.

Multi-employer bargaining, allowed in limited circumstances, was pushed by the ACTU before the summit.

Similarly, Innes Willox, CEO of the Ai Group, said: “There is real concern that such a proposal will risk exposing our community to crippling industrial action across crucial sectors of our economy.”

Meanwhile, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew McKellar commented: “While the Chamber remains open to considering sensible changes to multi-employer bargaining, we would be very concerned if this became a ploy to unionise small business, leading to increased industrial action.”

The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) supported multi-employer bargaining.

In the lead-up to the summit, the ACTU and COSBOA agreed to work together on creating a simpler labour system for small businesses. Their agreement was to include new options for collective bargaining, including multi-employer agreements.

COSBOA CEO Alexi Boyd said multi-employer bargaining would be optional, not sector-wide, and not mandate business decisions.

By Zilla Efrat