Event: Denita Wawn interview with Stephen Cenatiempo, 2CC Breakfast
Date: Tuesday 29 November 2022, 7.35am AEDT
Speakers: Stephen Cenatiempo, host 2CC Breakfast; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations
Stephen Cenatiempo, host 2CC Canberra: Denita Wawn is from the Master Builder Association and joins us on the line. Denita, good morning.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning.
Stephen: The amendments here. David Pocock says to us, and we spoke to him yesterday afternoon. He says it strikes the right balance. What are your members saying?
Denita: Well, we would disagree with the Senator despite the fact that he has acknowledged the issues with the building and construction industry. We appreciate his support in striking amendments, but this has all been about the ALP. About a fundamentally flawed legislation of significant magnitude that will have a significant impact on the economy. And the Senator has used his best efforts to get some tinkering around the edges, but the ALP were strident in making fundamental changes to our IR system.
Stephen: So, David Pocock tells us that he struck the right balance, and this will get wages moving. They can’t tell me how that will happen, but you are concerned that this could lead to more strikes and job cuts?
Denita: That’s right. It’s really simple economics in terms of the fact that if you force up wages without corresponding productivity outcomes that means more incomes comes into businesses to pay for these wage increases. Fundamentally if you have wage increases what will ultimately happen is that you have people losing their jobs. It’s as simple as that if you are not increasing economic growth at the same time. And we’re about the face a potential recession in this country next year. And as such, we are increasingly concerned about increased union involvement in work sites where there are currently no unions. Increase in the Fair Work Commission telling employers how to their business. This is something we have not seen in this country for 30 years. We are not exaggerating. Many of us, including myself, have worked in industrial relations for 30 years and we are alarmed. And it is not only the worst piece of legislation but the worst process that we have seen for quite some time.
Stephen: Well, there’s no question that the legislation was poorly drafted in the early stages. The argument that the government would put forward is that by making these enterprise bargaining situations easier for employees there’s an opportunity for businesses there to negotiate the productivity increases as well. What do you say to that?
Denita: Well, there was a much simpler solution than what is currently before parliament and that was making enterprise bargaining easier. We say that the current legislation before parliament takes the enterprise out of enterprise bargaining and bargaining out of enterprise bargaining as well. This means that you are going to be told as a business effectively how you need to structure your business and not use wages as an opportunity to actually compete with the person down the road. So, we’re concerned about the fundamental change this has for the economy. But more importantly this is a process that has been barged through the parliament. In normal circumstances we would have sat for weeks on end going line by line this very complex legislation. We did that when Julia Gillard introduced the changes in 2008. We had simply six hours and we’re about to debate a Bill that us experts have not seen any amendments for, nor has it gone through the proper consultative process that the government is legislated to do so.
Stephen: Now a lot of critics of this legislation will say the government has no mandate for this because they didn’t take it to the election. The government says the jobs summit that they held earlier this year well this is what came out of that. I looked at the list of people that were invited to that. There seemed to be a hell of a lot of union representatives and very few from business. Did you get a seat at the table?
Denita: Yes, we did but unfortunately we sat there for two days and said nothing. We were not asked any questions, were not given an opportunity to speak. We were there as window dressing. This Bill goes substantially beyond the policy that was taken to the election and the jobs summit was simply an opportunity to justify a significant expansion beyond that policy that was simply as I said window dressing. We sat there for two days and said nothing and were asked nothing.
Stephen: The definition of small business is something that I find problematic. Obviously, there are businesses with less than 20 employees are exempt and businesses under 50 the unions apparently have to prove that they need to step in and be a part of this bargaining process. But I’d argue that the definition of small business has gone way beyond that these days.
Denita: It has, and small business now needs so many people to operate so it’s very, very easy for what we would traditionally say is small business to slip into these legal definitions of small business. To be honest Steve the only people that are going to make an awful lot of money out of this are the lawyers. Because the complexity is ridiculous, and this is just too much to bear for small and also large businesses which is highly complex industrial relations legislation that you will need a full-time lawyer in your business trying to explain to you on a daily basis.
Stephen: Yeah, it’s almost like let’s simplify it by wrapping a whole bunch of red tape around it. Denita, really good to talk to you this morning.
Denita: Pleasure as always. Thank you.
Stephen: Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders Australia.
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