Farmers ‘disappointed’ after Albanese Government’s industrial relations reforms pass Lower House

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
National Farmers' Federation president David Jochinke said the passing of the Bill through the Lower House was “disappointing”.
Camera IconNational Farmers' Federation president David Jochinke said the passing of the Bill through the Lower House was “disappointing”. Credit: Supplied/NFF/RegionalHUB

A nationwide overhaul of industrial relations laws has passed through the House of Representatives, angering farmers who had urged Federal Labor to take the “catastrophic” legislation back to the drawing board.

The Closing Loopholes Bill was introduced in the Lower House on September 4 to the dismay of employer groups and the agriculture, small business and resource sectors.

Of particular concern for primary producers is the “same job, same pay” provision, which would require businesses to pay labour-hire workers the same as direct employees doing the same work.

Critics have argued the provision would effectively mean two workers with vastly different levels of experience would be have to be paid the same.

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National Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke said the Bill, to amend the Fair Work Act 2009, would “create layers of complexity for small farming businesses”.

“We’ve consistently called out this Bill for being fraught with issues that will make it harder and more expensive to create employment opportunities in farming,” he said.

“The Bill has been a catastrophe, with constant tinkering and reams of amendments representing just how complicated and rushed it is.”

Mr Jochinke said the passing of the Bill on November 29 — in the final sitting week for the year — was a “disappointing” development, describing it as “the opposite” of “rational and well-considered reform”.

“We call on the Senate to have the common sense to make sure this Bill as it stands does not go through,” he said.

“Let’s fix this Bill so we have good policy that ensures farms are competitive and desirable workplaces.”

Both WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA have raised serious concerns over the new laws, which PGA president Tony Seabrook labelled a “dangerous and unnecessary attack on employers and industry”.

PGA president Tony Seabrook labelled the new laws a “dangerous and unnecessary attack on employers and industry”.
Camera IconPGA president Tony Seabrook labelled the new laws a “dangerous and unnecessary attack on employers and industry”. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

“They will cost jobs, hurt the people they are supposedly meant to help and diminish the job opportunities for younger inexperienced job seekers,” Mr Seabrook said.

He said the new laws would be “impossible” for the average primary producer to navigate without a dedicated HR and legal department, making it harder to obtain essential seasonal workers and contract hire.

It is not just farmers who are concerned, with 11 leading employer groups issuing a joint statement warning the Albanese Government against rushing the “radical changes” through the chamber this week.

Among them were the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group and the Minerals Council of Australia.

“We are concerned that with only one sitting week of the House of Representatives before Christmas, there will not be adequate time for debate and proper examination of laws which will impact the entire economy,” the statement said.

“The current policy will hit Australian businesses and workers with more costs and complexity right in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.”

The group said the reforms would also “impose complexity, confusion and red tape on to small businesses” and “erode the right for self employed Australians to be their own boss”.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said the Bill was aimed at closing loopholes that undermined pay, security and safety for workers.

“The legislation contains four main elements — making wage theft a crime, introducing minimum standards to make sure gig workers aren’t ripped off, closing the loophole that’s used to undercut the pay and conditions of labour hire workers, and properly defining casual work so casuals aren’t exploited,” he said.

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