Intense negotiations between independent Senator David Pocock and the Albanese Government have ended with a deal which will likely see the controversial industrial relations reforms pass this week.
Senator Pocock was the deciding vote for Labor to secure passage of its Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill, but the former Wallabies captain raised concerns over the multi-employer bargaining aspects of the legislation.
He also accused the government of rushing passage through the Parliament.
But the government confirmed on Sunday morning it had struck a deal with the independent Senator for his vote after he had previously called for the bill to be split.
The key amendments secured by Senator Pocock cover eligibility for the multi-employer bargaining component including lifting compulsory threshold to 20 employees – which was recommended by the Senate Committee.
However, businesses with fewer than 50 employees can avoid the industry-wide bargaining if there is a belief they are not comparable with other companies with the onus on the union movement to prove a “common interest”.
The government will also remove the clause allowing unions a veto for deals struck under the multi-employer bargaining stream with the Fair Work Commission to compel a vote by workers regardless of any agreement between employers.
Unrelated to the industrial relations bill, Senator Pocock’s horse trading ended with a major commitment to establish an independent advisory committee to annually review government support payments.
The recently elected parliamentarian has gone toe-to-toe with the government on the bill since it was introduced in the House, forcing Labor to extend sitting weeks to usher through the legislation.
Claiming victory on Sunday, Senator Pocock said through negotiations the reforms were “substantially different” to those tabled in Parliament last month flagging a “game changer” for Australians living below the poverty line.
“It is better for business, better for workers and makes sure the most vulnerable in our community are no longer left behind,” Senator Pocock said in a statement.
“There are now additional safeguards in place for business, especially small businesses, and some important new powers to better protect the low paid and those reliant on government support.
“In what I believe will be a game changer for people living below the poverty line in our country, the government will now also receive independent expert advice that is made publicly available before each federal budget looking at how the most vulnerable in our community are faring and what needs to change to ensure we don’t leave them behind.
“I went into this seeking to get the best policy outcome, balancing the urgent need for workers to get a pay rise, with legislation that will work in practice by delivering pay rises for those that need it while not placing unreasonable burdens on small businesses.”
Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke said the negotiations with Senator Pocock “hasn’t been easy” but stressed the government’s urgency for the reforms to be passed before Christmas.
Mr Burke said despite the agreement and therefore passage of the bill all but certain, Parliament will still have an extraordinary sitting next Saturday.
“What will happen is on Thursday afternoon, we will suspend, rather than adjourn the House and then on Saturday morning at 9:00am we will come back,” Mr Burke told ABC Insiders on Sunday.
“No matter what happens and no matter how quickly the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill gets through, there will still be legislation going through the Senate and still amendments to be considered by the House, we will still be here on Saturday to deal with that.”
The bill will go through the Senate with amendments this week, before returning to the House where it will be passed into law.