Shadow employment minister Michaelia Cash has lashed the Albanese Government for handing the union movement a “complete and utter win” during the two-day Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra.
The summit aimed to address critical shortfalls in the Australian economy including skill shortages, stagnating wages and gender equity.
But the gathering of unions, businesses and community groups was dominated by industrial relations reform with the government committing to updating the better off overall test and implementing industry-wide bargaining agreements.
Stream more on politics with Flash. 25+ news channels in 1 place. New to Flash? Try 1 month free. Offer ends 31 October, 2022
Ms Cash said the “two-day talk fest” was severely influenced by the unions who ended the summit as “the big winners”.
“The outcome of the summit is a total complete and utter win for the union movement in Australia,” Ms Cash told Sky News Australia Political Editor Andrew Clennell.
“This is what they have been asking for now for years and years and years.
“Even the former Rudd and Gillard governments refused to deliver on this, but Mr Albanese is paying his paymaster in full but at the expense of the Australian people, the Australian economy.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Council of Small Businesses Organisations Australia (COSBOA) struck a deal in the lead up to the summit on multi-employer agreements.
COSBOA Chief Executive Alexi Boyd said the move would simplify the negotiating process for thousands of small businesses.
But business groups have raised concerns that changes to the existing Fair Work Act would lead to industry-wide strikes.
Under Australia’s current enterprise bargaining system, multi-employer deals are allowed but restricts employees from industrial action as a negotiating tool.
Ms Cash warned that the only way the government could change the act would be to “empower the unions” to organise massive strikes.
The shadow minister said the Albanese Government needed to clarify the potential changes to ensure sector-wide industrial action could not occur.
“When you live as part of a global economy, and in particular one coming out of COVID-19, you don’t put the interests of the Australian union movement first, you put the interests of the Australian people first,” Ms Cash said.
“But that takes guts and Mr Albanese doesn’t have them.
“This will have the potential to take us back to the dark ages, to close down parts of the economy.”
The Coalition criticised the makeup of the summit after it was revealed the union movement represented 25 per cent of the participants.
The invite list stood in contrast to the less than 10 per cent of private sector employees who are unionised.
The summit snubbed the big banks, the property council, the restaurant and catering association and Australia’s telcos which represent millions of Australians and thousands of businesses.