Scott Morrison considers booting workers' protections

Workers could face cuts to penalty rates, wages and some conditions to save jobs under changes to workplace laws the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is considering.

The Prime Minister confirmed on Friday that he was open to dumping the BOOT test - the better off overall test - that governs the nation's enterprise bargaining agreements.

It ensures that enterprise bargaining agreements do not rip off workers and undercut the award for their job that would otherwise apply.

Asked if he was considering dumping that protection, Mr Morrison said the best protection workers had was a job.


"And I know one thing: If you're not in a job, you're not better off. If you lose your job, you're not better off,''he said.

"And my concern is if we keep going down the path that we're going down and have a discussion that is constrained in a whole range of ways based on things that used to be the norms before, then people are going to lose their jobs.

"And they won't be better off. So, I'm interested in making sure Australians coming out of a COVID crisis where millions have less hours, and over a million don't even have a job, and I want to make them better off and that's why the industrial relations changes that I hope to come out of this consultative and good-faith process will deliver changes that will keep people in jobs, that will get people back in jobs. Because when you're in a job, you're better off and that's the better off I'm interested in."


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison believes having a job is the most important thing in the post-virus economy. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison believes having a job is the most important thing in the post-virus economy. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch


Even unions have expressed a willingness in recent weeks to consider the better off overall test after the unemployment rate doubled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus has raised concerns about the BOOT holding up agreements but has not suggested lowering workers' wages and conditions.

"Employers have been worried that measuring that just holds up the whole bargaining process," she told ABC radio this week.

"I can understand if everyone has reached agreement and you have got to wait a long time for that agreement to even be approved, that's something that in business' mind 'Well that's not very efficient and that's getting in the way of us doing things'. So we have some sympathy for that position."

But former ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons told that getting rid of the better off overall test would hurt workers.

"The way the BOOT works is it ensures that if you are under an agreement you don't get less than the award. It's not that complicated,'' he said.

The Prime Minister flagged this week he wants to bring unions to the negotiating table to consider options for workplace reform.

He's flagged a focus on casual workers and how to ensure they have a road map to part-time or permanent status and holiday pay when they are effectively working full-time or regular hours over a long time.

While workers have a right to request to convert to permanent work it's not always happening.

Some employers have also been hit by claims for back pay after the Fair Work tribunal found staff were effectively owed holiday leave and sick leave because they clearly were permanent workers, regardless of their contracts stating they were casuals.

The number of enterprise bargaining agreements in Australia rose rapidly since their introduction in the 1990s but have fallen over the last decade to just 10,000.

Current agreements now cover just 12.8 per cent of the private-sector workforce after a Fair Work decision that every individual worker had to be better off than the award.


Bunnings has ditched plans to strike a bargaining agreement – but this could change. Source: Bunnings.
Bunnings has ditched plans to strike a bargaining agreement – but this could change. Source: Bunnings.


As a result, many retailers and fast-food outlets were forced to dump the practice of trading penalty rates for higher hourly rates because it might leave individual workers worse off.

McDonald's and Domino's no longer use enterprise agreements and have shifted staff back to the award.

Bunnings has also abandoned plans to strike an enterprise bargaining agreement, a decision that could change if the BOOT test was modified.

One option to simplify the better off overall test is return to a protection that was closer to the Keating Government's original 'no disadvantage' test that was less complex.

While the Labor Party had previously opposed the removal of the BOOT prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Labor leader Anthony Albanese was noncommittal on Friday.

"I'm awaiting the discussions which take place. What I do say is out of any process, workers shouldn't be left worse off. It's that simple,'' he said.

"We need to have a bargaining framework whereby we can have win-win, because productivity is going backwards for employers, and wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living for employees.

"The system quite clearly isn't working at the moment."


Originally published as Simple change could hit Aussie workers