Wesfarmers chairman Michael Chaney has urged the Federal Government to substantially re-work proposed changes to Australia's industrial relations laws.
In an address at Wesfarmers Annual General Meeting, Chaney said his concerns around the regulations have been heightened in recent months.
"The lengthy industrial relations ‘Closing Loopholes’ Bill recently tabled by the government fundamentally re-writes Australia’s employment landscape, introducing complexity, uncertainty, and cost, at the wrong time for our economy," Chaney warned. "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.
"As proposed, the Bill needs a very substantial re-work, and we urge the government to engage business and employer groups, to understand its unintended consequences and adverse impact on national prosperity.
"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."
The Closing the Loopholes Bill marks the third round of reforms in less than 12 months – part of the most intense rollout of workplace relations reforms in decades.
Australian Retailers Assocation Paul Zahra has also warned against the latest round of policy changes.
“The pace and intensity of industrial relations change is a real concern for business, particularly in a uniquely challenging economic landscape," he said. “The Government should be simplifying the workplace relations system, not complicating it further. The Bill fails to meet that test, and our key concerns relate to the changes for casual workers and underpayment of wages.
“We see the benefits of a more permanent retail workforce, but our members say there are currently very low levels of casual conversion. This Bill means there is going to be a lot more administrative work for employers without any material change in casual conversion rates.
“While we support the Government’s decision to limit the wage theft laws to deliberate and intentional conduct, the Government needs to reduce complexity in our workplace relations system to minimise unintentional mistakes."
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.