Wesfarmers chairman Michael Chaney has warned new industrial relations laws could create complexity, uncertainty and cost for retailers. 

In an address at Wesfarmers Annual General Meeting last year, Chaney said the ‘Closing Loopholes’ Bill fundamentally re-writes Australia’s employment landscape.

“We are very concerned by many aspects of the Bill.

“One example is the proposed change to casual employment, introducing a new ambiguous definition, and making it harder for businesses like ours to offer casual work, which has always been core to Australia's employment landscape. As a large employer of casual team members, we know casual work suits people who need flexibility, and that those team members value the higher hourly rates."

Wesfarmers currently employs around 50,000 casuals across its businesses. The proposed reforms will change the definition of a "casual employee" and introduce pathways to permanent employment.

"Regrettably, the government’s proposal would most impact young people still in education, working parents with caring responsibilities, team members with a disability, those easing into retirement, and people doing it tough, for whom casual hours are a secondary source of income," Chaney claimed.

"As others have noted, the proposed changes will result in fewer jobs and lower wages for Australian workers. The administrative burden on employers of implementing and keeping up with the changes would inevitably lead to a reduction in job opportunities - casual and permanent - as businesses take steps to mitigate risks that would arise from these changes."

Chaney said Wesfarmers had joined retailers in seeking to highlight concerns to the government, particularly around uncertainty, complexity and cost. 

"The independent and highly regarded Productivity Commission constantly reminds us that improvements to national productivity lie at the heart of Australia’s future prosperity. Without that, the economy will languish or go backwards, fewer jobs will be created, and governments will be constrained in providing the services we have all come to expect."

Wesfarmers has fielded multiple underpayment cases in recent years, including $9 million to Target staff and $15 million to workers in its industrial and safety division.

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