Business groups score IR bill compromise

The government has agreed to meet business groups halfway on some of the more contentious parts of its industrial relations bill.

Business groups have raised concerns about the multi-employer bargaining changes, which will essentially make it easier for employees at multiple businesses to band together to call for higher wages and better conditions.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has agreed to amend the bill so businesses with smaller staff numbers are not forced into multi-employer agreements by larger groups.

"This is a reasonable concern," he told Sky News on Sunday.

The bill will be amended so a majority of staff at each employer will need to agree to take part in bargaining or any other stage in industrial relations activity, including strike action.

"This puts an end to the argument that you'll end up with workplaces that didn't want to be part of an agreement but somehow got roped in anyway, or didn't want to be part of industrial action.

"If you vote against any of the stages at that business level, then you're not part of it."

Mr Burke said he consulted business groups about the bill in the past seven days, including the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, Ai Group, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott welcomed the government's concessions but said big problems remained "including a lowest common denominator risk to wages and increased complexity that could delay wage increases".

BCA has also wants higher-income sectors, such as mining, to be left out of multi-employer agreements.

Mr Burke said the mining industry was largely covered by enterprise agreements so staff were unlikely to engage in multi-employer bargaining.

There have also been calls to carve out enterprises with fewer than 100 employees from multi-employer agreements. Small businesses with fewer than 15 people have already been excluded.

Mr Burke expects the minimum headcount to be discussed as the bill moves through parliament but stressed it was important for all employees to see their wages increasing, no matter the size of their employer.

Nationals leader David Littleproud said the government needed to be more transparent about the possible downsides of the proposed legislation.

"If you have the ability for more strikes, businesses will have to recalibrate and employ less people, and it will also hurt at the checkout," he told Sky News.

Teal independent Kate Chaney said multi-employer bargaining may get wages moving in low-paid feminised sectors such as childcare but was concerned it would add a layer of complexity for other sectors.

"I'm concerned about the overreach and this extension of multi-employer bargaining to any group deemed to have a common interest, as determined by the Fair Work Commission," Ms Chaney said.

Labor does not need independents to pass the bill through the lower house, but will rely on votes from key independents in the Senate including David Pocock and Jacquie Lambie, who are concerned the bill is being rushed through without enough scrutiny.

Senator Pocock has proposed splitting the bill and solely voting on the non-controversial aspects, such as measures to improve gender pay equity, before Christmas.