Labor defends proposed workplace changes

·3-min read

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has defended his proposed overhaul of workplace laws after drawing fire from the government and business groups.

Mr Albanese has delivered a major speech promising a better deal for people in insecure jobs.

Central to his pitch is a proposal for portable entitlements, allowing casual and contract workers to take benefits like sick leave, annual leave and long service leave with them when they start a new job.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter claims the plan could cost Australian businesses $20 billion each year.

Labor has not detailed how much its policy would cost, but Mr Albanese rejected the government's calculation.

"This government just makes up figures as if they get them out of a cereal box. They can't be taken seriously," he told reporters in Brisbane.

Mr Porter is not backing away from his criticism.

"It would come at a massive cost to business in the form of a tax which would cause businesses to go extinct," he told 2GB radio.

"Like all things that would be nice to do, they come with a cost, which when it comes to Labor manifests in attacks. It would kill business in Australia.

"It's utopian and a lovely thought, but totally impractical, massively costly, and the end result of it would be to kill jobs, not grow them."

Mr Albanese was also quizzed about a shift in his language over the issue of portable entitlements.

A draft copy of his speech provided to media outlets contained a pledge to work with governments, unions and industry to implement the Labor proposal.

But this language was watered down by the time Mr Albanese delivered his remarks.

He said Labor would consult with stakeholders and develop portable entitlements where it was practical to do so.

Mr Albanese defended the change in wording.

"I only gave one speech. I gave it last night. I gave it for everyone," he said.

The opposition leader is also maintaining pressure on the Morrison government's proposed changes to industrial relations.

McDonald's has made a submission to an inquiry into the proposed laws, arguing food and drink consumed during breaks should be taken into account in pay talks when looking at whether a worker is better off overall.

Mr Albanese reflected on his time working casually at McDonald's.

"I know what it's like to have a bit of food or a drink during your break. You need to do it," he said.

"I used to work out the back. It was hot, hard work.

"The idea that you take into account whether someone's better off overall if they have the luxury of actually getting a bit of food and a soft drink during their break is just quite absurd."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed Labor had engaged in "massive overreach" by suggesting changes to the better off overall test would see workers' conditions and wages slashed.

"Their claims are simply untrue," he told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Morrison also took aim at Labor's portable entitlement policy.

"They just don't think through the consequences of what they're saying. And then they would leave you to bear the cost of those consequences because they haven't thought of them," he said.