Unions have condemned changes to workplace rules allowing just 24 hours’ notice for employee votes on overhauling enterprise agreements.
Bosses will be able to force workers to vote on proposed changes to pay and conditions within one day for the next six months because of coronavirus.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter reduced the usual time for voting on enterprise agreements down from seven days through regulation.
“This is a fair, temporary administrative change to a time period meant to deal with an extraordinary and emergent situation the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” he told ABC radio.
“I want to give businesses and their employees every advantage to be able to respond quickly to save businesses and save jobs.”
But Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the change exposed workers to employers seeking to exploit fear surrounding the pandemic.
She warned employees could be pressured as bosses ram through reductions in pay and conditions.
“We are already seeing widespread abuse of the JobKeeper system (and) prior to the pandemic Australian business had an enormous problem with wage theft,” Ms McManus said.
“We know that, sadly, too many employers will exploit the system if there are no safeguards for working people.”
The Greens will try to torpedo the regulation when parliament resumes in May.
“Those of us who fought WorkChoices know the Liberals are no friend of workers. But to use the cover of a global pandemic to strip away workers’ rights is a gross new low,” leader Adam Bandt said.
“There is no evidence this change is needed, especially given the high degree of co-operation witnessed during this crisis.”
Mr Porter expects common sense and co-operation between workers and bosses to guide any changes.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the new rules would allow agreed changes to be implemented without delay.
“During the current crisis, employers, employees and their representatives need to work together to save businesses and jobs, and enterprise agreement variations have an important role to play,” he said.
Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said the decision undermined the goodwill between unions and employer groups during the crisis.
“Just a few weeks ago the government was insisting there were no unions and employers any more – that we were all on Team Australia,” he said.
“Decisions like this suggest that was just empty rhetoric.”