Zali Steggall accuses government of unionising agenda

“Let’s be honest, IR legislation is some of the most technical legislation that comes before parliament,” Spender said.

“To push this through when the business community has real concerns and has had very little time to absorb it has really harmed that relationship.”

Wentworth independent MP Allegra Spender has accused the government of rushing the legislation.Credit:Rhett Wyman

Comment has been sought from Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke, who said on Monday he was “deeply reluctant” to delay any provisions of the bill that would impact the ability to increase workers’ pay.

“People have had their wages deliberately held back for 10 years and with inflation moving at its current rate, I don’t see how I can deliberately hold back parts of legislation that seek to get wages moving again,” Burke said.

Independent senator David Pocock, whose balance of power vote will be crucial, made clear he would not allow the government to ram through the legislation by guillotining debate in the final sitting weeks.


“A short committee inquiry process does not allow time for people to make submissions and the Senate committee to inquire fully into this complex and wide-ranging legislation,” he said, adding it was better to get the legislation right and pass it in February.

“If there isn’t more time for the Senate committee process then I expect senators will use a lot more time to debate this in the Senate during second reading speeches and in the committee of the whole stage.”

Uproar has centred on provisions that expand the ability of workers to bargain across multiple employers, with businesses arguing the bill will draw them into agreements without their consent, and expose them to widespread strike action.

One section of the bill will empower unions to kick off negotiations for expired enterprise agreements without the consent of the employer or employees in what businesses fear could force them prematurely into costly arbitration to push deals through.


A Department of Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson said the amendment meant unions no longer had to show a majority of workers agreed to strike a new agreement if the proposed deal was substantially the same as the old one.

“This will make it easier for such employees to initiate bargaining, noting their clear recent support to bargain for an agreement with their employer,” the spokesperson said, adding the changes would allow all parties to access bargaining “in a faster and more efficient way”.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Andrew McKellar said the change “tips the change in favour of the union movement”.

“From that moment on, the union can drag employers through a compulsory and expensive arbitration process. This is yet another example of a pro-union agenda that’s hidden inside the bill,” McKellar said.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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