In his hour address to the National Press Club in Canberra, the Prime Minister presented a mishmash of reforms aimed to “enable our businesses to earn Australia’s way out of this crisis”.
While he speedily flicked through some potentially big issues, such as tax reform and deregulation, the PM left advocates for small business demanding more.
Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell was one of the first to react to JobMaker, or more specifically the industrial relations slice of the PM’s speech, calling it a welcome move but one that needs to go further.
Referring to the current industrial relations system as “not fit for purpose”, the PM announced the government will go back to the drawing board and work on its simplification. However, Ms Carnell goes a step further, calling for the introduction of a small business award.
Small business award vital
“In this new world we live in, with business confidence at a historical low, the system needs to make it easy for small-business employers to be able to hire and manage staff so they can get on with the job of running their business,” Ms Carnell said shortly after PM Morrison retreated to his seat.
The small business ombudsman argued that the Fair Work Act is far too complicated with its 960 sections and over a quarter of a million words. Noting that COVID-19 has had a “devastating impact” on Aussie jobs, Ms Carnell opined that it urgently needs to be countered with positive changes.
“On top of this, Australia has more than 100 industry awards, with hundreds more classifications within those awards,” Ms Carnell said.
“If nothing changes, those small businesses that were planning to grow their business or start a new venture, simply will not.”
If adopted by the government, the small business award would be simpler than existing awards and available to all small businesses on an “opt in” basis, covering all staff, irrespective of their different duties, with a “permaflexi” classification.
“Small businesses will be facing enormous challenges and uncertainty as they emerge from hibernation. If they don’t have flexibility and confidence in the system, they won’t employ,” Ms Carnell cautioned.
She opined that another logical move would be to clarify the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code, to give small and family businesses the confidence they need to employ more Australians.
“Without a system overhaul, business confidence will continue to be undermined, and that hurts both small businesses and workers,” Ms Carnell said, adding that JobMaker has the potential to be a “game-changer” if approached correctly.
Scrap ‘outdated’ regulations
Also responding to the PM’s award simplification pitch, the Australian Retailers Association said that industrial relations and vocational education must be adjusted to keep pace with a rapidly evolving retail landscape. This, the CEO noted, includes scrapping “outdated regulation”.
“We live in a world where Australians can choose to shop 24/7. Retailers need to be able to operate flexibly to meet the demands of their customers. When they are constrained by outdated regulation and training, it negatively impacts Australians, retailers and their employees,” said ARA CEO Paul Zahra.
Mr Zahra explained that the “hundreds of rates of pay” that can apply under the retail award create a substantial amount of the challenges.
“The current Retail Award has us locked into a rigid and outdated system of inflexible hours, where retailers are unable to honour the working needs and preferences of their teams,” he said.
Also referring to the current vocational training system as “no longer fit for purpose”, Mr Zahra opined that a “well-funded” system could help deliver the skills that strengthen productivity.
Builders braced for ‘blood bath’
Following their demand for a $13.2 billion stimulus package to save the industry, Master Builders welcomed the PM’s mention of an impending “plan” to support the residential building sector, but urged for a more timely response.
Explaining that the building and construction industry is braced for a “blood bath” as forward contracts fall a cliff, particularly in the housing sector, the CEO of Master Builders, Denita Wawn, said that measures must result in building activity commencing immediately.
“Announcements on their own do not amount to stimulus, and unless measures are put in place soon, it will be too late for thousands of small residential builders and tradies.”
Ms Wawn opined that by acknowledging that the economic crisis resulted from the government’s response to suppress COVID-19, and not from a market failure, Mr Morrison sent an “important signal” that the government is willing to help businesses kick-start economic growth.
“We support the Prime Minister’s call for employer and employee representatives to put aside ‘ideological posturing’ and work together to ensure the viability of the businesses that employ Australians,” she said.
“In building and construction, nearly 400,000, mostly small businesses, employ 1.2 million people.”
Time for bipartisanship
COSBOA’s CEO, Peter Strong, was also quick to respond to the PM’s speech, commending his focus on small business.
COSBOA applauded the emphasis on improving the vocational education and training system and on removing the complications of workplace relations, but called for “bipartisanship”.
“If we give small-business people the flexibility to create and grow business, then innovation will be easier and positive outcomes achieved faster,” Mr Strong said.
“We need to achieve greater self-sufficiency with key and essential products and then from that create new export markets. To achieve that aim, we need a workplace system that enhances businesses, rewards workers and creates certainty for both workers and employers.”
Recognising that “bipartisanship is the best way to get results”, Mr Strong concluded: “If we are to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, it will only be through a consensus or an industrial war. Consensus is essential; a war just creates pain and losers.”