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National Farmers’ Federation slams Albanese Government after IR reforms ‘rushed’ through Senate

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Adam PoulsenCountryman
National Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke has lashed out at the Albanese Government for rushing controversial industrial relations reforms through the Senate.
Camera IconNational Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke has lashed out at the Albanese Government for rushing controversial industrial relations reforms through the Senate. Credit: Supplied/National Farmers’ Federation

Australia’s peak farm body has slammed the Albanese Government after an overhaul of industrial relations laws was “rushed” through the Senate on Thursday, leaving farmers to deal with “layers of red tape” ahead of Christmas.

It comes just over a week after the controversial Closing Loopholes Bill was passed in the House of Representatives, to the dismay of the agriculture, small business and resource sectors.

Farmers are particularly concerned about the “same job, same pay” provision, which requires businesses to pay labour-hire workers the same as direct employees doing the same work.

National Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke — who had urged Labor to take the Bill “back to the drawing board” — said the Government had “handed farmers a lump of coal for Christmas”.

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“It’s left farm businesses to deal with complex legislation and layers of red tape during the festive season,” he said.

“The average farmer doesn’t have a legal team to lean on to unpack this legislation.

“We’ve consistently called for extra time for Parliament to consider the more complex and controversial components of the Bill, but the Government has bowed to the unions and steamrolled ahead.”

The legislation passed the Upper House after Labor struck a deal with independent senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock to vote for key elements of the Bill.

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

But Mr Jochinke said they would make it harder and more expensive to create employment opportunities in farming.

“Farmers will be left to grapple with how they engage employees through labour hire in the context of this new legislation during the busiest time of the year,” he said.

“Rushing through legislation on the last sitting day is irresponsible and contributes to a complex and costly industrial relations system that preferences unions over productivity and sensible solutions.”

WAFarmers president and NFF vice president, John Hassell, said the legislation had been “handled badly” and would “create problems”.

“The Government has ballsed it up for want of a better term,” he said.

“Its policy on the run, and it’s a poor policy in the way it’s been achieved.”

WAFarmers president and Pingelly farmer John Hassell.
Camera IconWAFarmers president and Pingelly farmer John Hassell. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

Industrial relations expert and Curtin University lecturer Sandra Martain disagreed, describing the passing of the laws as “a win for workers and an embarrassment for big business”.

“The campaign of hysteria from big business was built on false assertions: employers would not be able to use labour hire brokers in areas of temporary or special need as they have always done, or that employers would not be able to pay workers differential pay based on their performance or specialised expertise,” Dr Martain said.

“The reforms were never about this. They are aimed at closing the loophole whereby organisations that negotiate enterprise agreements with their staff— in good faith — can then sidestep those agreements by outsourcing the work and using labour hire workers, who may or may not have enterprise agreements in place, to reduce their labour cost.

“Organisations who have not been exploiting this loophole have nothing to worry about.

“Organisations who have will now need to reassess their staffing models and start paying all workers fairly.”

But Mr Hassell said Dr Martain “can’t see the wood for the trees”.

“It’s going to be a disincentive to employ inexperienced people, so I think she’s obviously showing her left leanings there,” he said.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said the laws would “make a material difference” in the lives of Australian workers.

“It means labour hire workers will no longer be underpaid,” he said.

“It means it will finally be a criminal offence for an employer to steal from a worker’s pay, closing a longstanding loophole that created unfair competition for the vast majority of businesses that do the right thing.”

Mr Burke said the Government would progress the rest of the legislation at the earliest opportunity early next year.

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