Wednesday, 28 October 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Workplace Relations
I thank the member for his question and acknowledge his expertise in this area. The JobKeeper program has so far provided $69 billion of support to over 900,000 businesses and around 3.5 million workers. That support, of course, financially, was absolutely critical. But it wasn't just financial support, because the JobKeeper changes included genuine policy reform in the Fair Work Act to provide what are, essentially, unheralded flexibilities to businesses during COVID-19—commonsense things like the ability to direct flexibly on hours, location, duties and times of work during this pandemic.
Last week an independent report was tabled in this parliament which looked at the way in which those industrial relations flexibilities assisted businesses. I think that report shows two things. First, the provisions—the IR flexibilities—were very widely used by employers. They helped businesses adapt quickly during that very difficult time. Secondly, the types of flexibilities that helped businesses survive during COVID can also help them thrive and regrow as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. What that report showed was that three out of four eligible employees—three out of four of all eligible employees—actually used these flexibilities. Eight out of 10 employers said the IR flexibilities were either important or essential to maintaining operations through the pandemic, and eight out of 10 employers said that the IR flexibilities were either important or essential to keeping their staff in work. So, in number terms, that means about 500,000 businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic found those IR flexibilities were either important or essential to maintaining their operations through the business and to keeping people in work.
We have extended those flexibilities to the second round of JobKeeper, and, in a limited but very important form with flexibilities and protections, we have extended those flexibilities even to those businesses who were in JobKeeper but are now growing out of the problems that they had. It wasn't just employers who made their contributions known to this report; it was employee representatives. One employer noted for this report, 'Without these provisions, we wouldn't be open.' They said that the provisions were 'the difference between being able to continue to operate and not'. An employee representative is quoted in the review as saying, 'It has been an overwhelmingly positive program for workers.' So the challenge now is to grow and foster that cooperative ability to make real changes to legislation and our practices to grow more jobs.