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Media comments today on demise of wage theft bill demonstrate bill was doomed to fail from the start

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

COSBOA today notes the disappointing comments made by the employer IR club in regard to wage underpayment. The comments appeared in The Australian this morning and were a response to COSBOA’s call to revive the legislation to penalise wage theft.

COSBOA Chair Mark McKenzie said “The Morrison Government was unable to pass the majority of the Bill because the large employer groups disagreed about the importance and specifics of the draft provisions that had been developed through the working group process.”

“Our collective failure as employer groups to agree on a way forward meant that we simply handballed our conflict and disagreement on a way forward to the Australian Parliament. The result is that the bill that was dramatically scaled down due to the normal political to-ing and fro-ing of legislative process.”

Mr McKenzie added “all of us involved in the IR reform process have walked away disappointed and bruised from the process begging the question of how we will ever get meaningful and much needed reform of our industrial relations system in the future.”

Mr McKenzie further added “The reported comments from ACCI and AIG on our call for the wage theft provisions to be revisited to penalise deliberate and systemic wage underpayment demonstrate that they either haven’t actually read the legislation, or are deliberately misrepresenting it to undermine the argument for change.

“Wage theft is different to payroll mistakes. Pretending that legislating against wage theft will result in small business employers who make mistakes going to jail – particularly coming from the mouths of big business groups some of whom regularly defend deliberate misclassification of staff as contractors – is reprehensible.”

COSBOA CEO Peter Strong said “these comments show the toxic ‘all or nothing’ approach of the IR Club. Packaging all of the reforms together in one Bill didn’t work the first time, so why are they threatening to support penalties for wage underpayment only if it’s part of a new bill containing the reforms that failed to get through Parliament? It’s beyond disappointing, beyond obstructive – it’s just plain stupid. As the cliché goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Mr Strong added “COSBOA wants real change. And we understand that sometimes incremental change is the best – or even the only – way forward. We are motivated by practicality, not ideology.”

“Let there be no doubt we want a simpler workplace relations system that is easy for small business employers to navigate. One that gives small businesses confidence to employ people. But let’s achieve this one step at a time.”


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