Greater IR flexibility will help take our economy off life support

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government changes to IR for economy

The Morrison Government is right to be pressing for the industrial relations changes that have been so critical to keeping people in work through this pandemic to be extended and to apply to employers coming off JobKeeper.

The extension of changes to the Fair Work Act, and the Government’s proposed business investment incentives, is critical to rebuild businesses, keep people in work and ultimately aid Australia’s pathway to recovery.

The flexibilities that apply to employers, particularly SMEs, give them the ability to change duties, to change hours and to change the location of staff, should continue, not just for those firms that meet the reapplied eligibility test, but should also apply to those firms on JobKeeper right now. And these changes should be made permanent.

Related: Is flexible working destined to become the new norm?

‘JobKeeper Enabling Directions’, introduced in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, have given small business owners the flexibility they need to continue to operate in this challenging time. The greater freedom to alter hours and working locations has allowed businesses to quickly adapt their operations and keep staff employed. Quite simply, it is in no one’s interests to wind back legislation that has benefitted both employers and their workers.

There is also a bigger question to be asked: how do we help the economy not just survive the pandemic, but thrive? The answer lies in the health of our business sector. While JobKeeper 2.0 will undoubtedly be welcomed by businesses, we must not mistake subsidy for sustainability. There are no winners from a business sector placed on indefinite life support. The need for ongoing IR flexibility and a larger workplace relations reform program is now greater than ever.

The flexibility we’ve seen in the IR sector in responding to COVID-19 is a sign of how complicated and impractical the system was pre-pandemic, and now we have a chance for long lasting reform that will benefit both business owners and their employees.

It has taken a crisis like this to highlight just how inflexible and complicated Australia’s workplace relations system had become. The JobKeeper changes have benefitted employers and workers across the country by both saving and creating jobs.

If the changes made to the Fair Work Act were to revert back to the way they were at the start of the year, it would have catastrophic impact on the viability of business, particularly SMEs which form the backbone of Australia’s economy.

The Government is expected to use its October budget to implement its five year blue print and has identified industrial relations reform aimed at injecting greater flexibility into the labour market being “first cab off the rank”.

This is our opportunity to hit the ‘reset’ button on industrial relations reform that Australia so desperately needs.


Ed Mallett is a workplace relations expert and the Managing Director of Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace advisory firm for small and medium enterprises.

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