Influential senate crossbenchers are demanding the federal government split the controversial second tranche of its workplace laws in order to pass the less contentious element by year’s end.
Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock on Monday introduced four private senators’ bills aimed at stripping out the least controversial elements of Labor’s Closing Loopholes Bill to allow parliament to pass new protections for emergency service workers who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The crossbench senators are also calling for the passage of measures to stop discrimination against employees who have experienced domestic violence, changes to small business insolvency laws and to expand assistance for those who suffer from silicosis.
But the move has been met with fierce resistance from the government who reiterated their call for the Bill to be passed in its entirety.
“At no stage has the government supported any of these measures being delayed,” Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke said.
“I don’t accept that it is controversial or contentious to prevent workers from being underpaid. That’s what the Closing Loopholes Bill is about – closing the loopholes that allow workers to be underpaid.”
It’s understood, however, that the Coalition will support the four private senators’ bills, while the Greens, One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts and United Australia Party senator Ralph Babet have not ruled out their support thus far.
In September, the Coalition and crossbenchers in the Senate established an inquiry to examine the controversial elements of the legislation, delaying its passage until at least February and kiboshing the government’s hopes of passing the legislation before its self-imposed Christmas deadline.
More-contentious elements of the legislation include clamping down on labour hire, making it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent roles, and empowering the Fair Work Commission to introduce minimum pay and conditions for gig economy workers.
Senator Lambie said the bills, co-sponsored by her and Senator Pocock, would make a real difference to workers and should be expedited to come into force by the start of 2024, instead of six months later as the government’s legislation specifies.
“So we would like the four really important things removed from the Bill that really assist people out there that are doing it tough, that are suffering mental health issues from their work, that are going through domestic violence,” she told ABC News.
“And we’d like this started on January 1 and the only way that we can do this is by splitting the Bill and getting them through these measures.”
ACT independent senator David Pocock said he would not act as a “rubber stamp” and automatically pass the government’s workplace rules, noting that a number of contentious sections of the Bill required examination.
“I’m going to look at legislation on its merits and you present a huge omnibus Bill – a 500-page explanatory memorandum and 200-plus pages of detailed legislation – you can’t expect that just to fly through the Senate,” he told ABC Radio National.
“I think there’s a lot of things in this Bill that do warrant scrutiny – there’s a number of issues that have been raised.”
The proposed changes to platform work have garnered strong support from the union movement that on Monday reiterated their calls for the legislation to be passed in full.
“Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock are acknowledging the importance of some elements of this Bill, but every element is urgent and important, especially during a cost-of-living crisis,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.
“No worker should be left behind, and splitting the bill leaves behind changes that will make a world of difference to struggling families across Australia right now.”