Ms McManus on Sunday laid out the set of “threshold issues” that will trigger a backlash from the union movement if crossed.
Among them is giving businesses that were once on JobKeeper, but are no longer, the power to drop workers’ hours and change their tasks at work without consultation, deferring the legislated superannuation rise to 12 per cent and adopting employer proposals that reduce workers’ rights.
Ms McManus declined to comment directly on the progress of the five industrial working groups overseen by Attorney-General Christian Porter, which the government hopes will arrive at consensus proposals to change the law and help businesses take on more staff, as they are confidential.
But her overall position points to the limits of reform the government might achieve from that process without a battle with the unions.
The working groups are focused on enforcing Australia’s wage laws, resolving the “double dipping” issue caused by a Federal Court decision that gave some “casual” workers rights to paid leave, letting businesses and their workers strike pay deals more easily and simplifying industrial law.
On Sunday, the ACTU launched an ad campaign designed to remind the government and crossbench senators of worker sacrifices during the pandemic and foreshadow a more aggressive campaign if Ms McManus believes it necessary.
Federal parliament returns on Monday for a sitting fortnight in which legislation to extend JobKeeper and JobSeeker at a reduced rate will be the biggest item on the government’s agenda. It is expected to bundle the bill for that change with an extension of JobKeeper flexibility, making it difficult for Labor and the crossbench to block in parliament.
Businesses have to have lost 30 per cent of their turnover to be eligible for JobKeeper if they have less than $1 billion in annual revenue and 50 per cent if their revenue tops that amount.
The government argues businesses that do not meet the 30 or 50 per cent thresholds may still need to drop their employees’ hours and change their roles — from serving customers to preparing takeaway, for example — to get through the pandemic.