Addressing the country on Monday, Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government will refine its plan ahead of the pared-back sitting of Parliament mid-week, but he explained that the “essential principles” will not change.
The government’s JobKeeper program proposes a $1,500 per fortnight salary subsidy to full-time and part-time workers, along with sole traders and casuals who have worked with a business for more than a year.
Over the past week, Labor and the unions have called on the rules to be relaxed to allow 1.1 million casuals employed for less than 12 months to sign up to the scheme.
However, on Monday morning, Mr Porter confirmed this will not be the case. Standing firm, he explained the government would stick to the “standard definition” of a casual worker under the Fair Work Act.
“There has to be a line drawn,” he said.
While the Morrison government wants to change the Fair Work Act to enable the introduction of the temporary measures, Labor and the unions have argued that the Fair Work Commission should enact the JobKeeper program.
Mr Porter said: “Labor suggested, I think in the words of Tony Burke, their view is that that should be done by the commissioner, the Fair Work Commission.
“Now, the difficulty with that is that would require changes to 121 modern awards, an unknown, but high percentage of 11,000 enterprise agreement. And four million Australians who are under agreements, some tied to awards, some not tied to awards.
“That process, if it could be done, would take weeks, if not months, to complete.”
He confirmed that the government is currently consulting with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, with discussion to be held with Labor on Monday night.
“Now that is as good as we can do and be consultative through the union movement who have been very helpful with this process, but that is as good as we can do in the timing that we have. Some people would like more time,” he said.
“I’m one of them, but that’s as good as we can do in the circumstances.”
Referring to the government’s JobKeeper program as the “Parliament’s Dunkirk moment”, Mr Porter said the government is looking to “get the lifeboats out” to save jobs in the “simplest, clearest, guaranteed formula that Parliament can devise”.
Returning to the questions surrounding casual workers, Mr Porter said that JobKeeper was designed to keep workers linked to employers during the pandemic.
“People who don’t fall into the JobKeeper system will fall into the JobSeeker system,” he said.
“The expenditure is going to be very similar.”