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Labor's industrial relations reforms pass Senate

Tess IkonomouAAP
Employment Minister Tony Burke announced a deal with crossbenchers to pass some reforms this year. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconEmployment Minister Tony Burke announced a deal with crossbenchers to pass some reforms this year. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Extra protections for workers have passed the upper house after Labor struck a deal with crossbenchers to split its industrial relations reform.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke secured the support of independent senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock for key parts of the “closing loopholes” legislation.

The measures cleared the Senate on Thursday afternoon, before heading to the House of Representatives for its tick of approval.

The laws will stop companies underpaying workers through the use of labour hire and criminalise intentional wage theft.

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There will also be a new criminal offence of industrial manslaughter, better support for first responders’ post-traumatic stress disorder and improved protections for workers subjected to family and domestic violence from discrimination at work.

The functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency will be expanded to include silica.

A loophole will be closed in which large businesses claim small business exemptions during insolvency to avoid redundancy payments.

Mr Burke said other measures in the government’s original larger bill will be debated next year.

“I’m even more optimistic about those remaining provisions because of ... the goodwill and good intentions of the cross bench,” he said.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said his party’s support came after the government agreed to criminalise underpayment of superannuation.

“(We) would have liked to have seen more protections for casual and gig workers before Christmas, but there’s some important wins in this bill,” he said.

The Greens will also continue to push for the right to disconnect, which ensures workers don’t have to respond to emails and phone calls outside work time.

The government will also boost funding for the small business advisory service in the Fair Work Ombudsman, and will review the Comcare scheme to help workers injured on the job.

This will cover ambulance officers, emergency services communications operators, firefighters, the Australian Border Force and Australian Federal Police.

Kay Catanzariti, whose son was killed at a Canberra work site, welcomed the strengthening of protections after years of advocacy.

“We’re all Australians - it doesn’t matter what jurisdiction you get killed in,” she tearfully told reporters.

Senator Lambie said she’s had a “gutful” of big companies not paying people what they deserve under labour hire.

“They’ve got massive profits, these bloody little buggers, and they’re not doing the right thing,” she said.

Opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash described Labor’s move as a “desperate ploy” to distract Australians from the released detainees.

“In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, the government’s new labour hire laws will substantially increase the burden and costs imposed on businesses using legitimate labour hire arrangements to meet demand surges or remedy staff shortages,” she said.

Business Council chief executive Bran Black said the government was pushing significant changes to labour hire employment under the guise of other legislation to avoid scrutiny.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus described the announcement as a “cost of living Christmas present” for working people, but said the job wasn’t done yet.

She remained confident other protections for casual and gig economy workers would also pass as the government was committed.

“We look forward to support of people on the cross bench and constructive engagement to finish the job,” Ms McManus said.

She said trade unions supported the right to disconnect, and would urge the government to support the proposal.

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