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Coalition to tweak workplace ‘better off overall test’

A key fairness test for enterprise agreements will be reformed under a Morrison government proposal designed to reignite the failing bargaining system.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged changes to the better off overall test, which requires all workers to benefit from new workplace deals.

“The test for approval of agreements should focus on substance rather than technicalities,” he said in a speech to the Business Council of Australia.

Mr Morrison said the test should be applied in a practical and sensible way that did not discourage bargaining.

He said the Fair Work Commission should be given set time frames to assess enterprise agreements that have the support of employers and employees.

The Coalition wants to introduce legislation to parliament before the end of 2020 covering five major reform areas thrashed out in industrial relations working groups.

The wide-ranging bill is also expected to make changes to casual employment, compliance and enforcement, award simplification and greenfields agreements.

“I don’t expect our reforms will elicit delirious applause,” Mr Morrison said.

“There won’t be sweeping praise from the union movement and businesses won’t see their version of an industrial utopia either.

“But it will be a genuine attempt at fixing problems in a way that provides shared benefits.”

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles is awaiting the detail with trepidation.

“The idea of the Coalition walking down the path of industrial relations reform is going to send a chill down the spine of every Australian worker,” he told the Nine Network on Friday.

Senior cabinet minister Peter Dutton said the industrial relations system was making it hard for businesses to employ people during the economic recovery.

“We have been trying to work with the unions and business groups and others to get a sensible platform put in place and I think that’s exactly the right approach,” he told Nine.

Mr Morrison said the reforms would “shift the needle” for employers and workers without repeating past ideological battles.

He said industrial relations had become a zero sum game with massive political capital spent on marginal changes which are repealed under a new government.

“We need to be smarter than this. We need to make changes, and make them stick. And I think we can,” he said.

Unions and major employer groups have called for changes to enterprise bargaining after a steady decline in agreements over the past decade.


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