Workplace law changes up in the air

The future of Australia's enterprise bargaining system remains up in the air with negotiations over the government's signature workplace laws going down to the wire.

The government wants to pass its legislation before parliament rises at the end of the first week in December, with the minister so far staying steadfast against splitting its bill.

A parliamentary inquiry into the laws recommended further clarity surrounding workers' protections and mediation processes between employees and employers.

It also recommended the definition of a small business be increased from fewer than 15 employees to fewer than 20.

Independent senator David Pocock says he supports 85 to 90 per cent of the bill but wanted time to consider the impacts of its more complex aspects such as multi-employer bargaining.

He said the rushed inquiry diminished the value of the final report with the public not given enough time to make submissions.

"It affects too many Australians, too many workers, too many small businesses," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"My priority has been working through the details, consulting, ensuring that we get the details right."

Both Senator Pocock and independent senator Jacqui Lambie have proposed splitting the bill prolonging consultations.

But Workplace Relations and Employment Minister Tony Burke says he doesn't want to wait to get wages moving, arguing the changes will put upwards pressure on incomes.

Fair Work Commission and departmental officials were grilled by crossbench MPs on Tuesday.

Senator Pocock cited parliamentary library research suggesting claims that multi-employer bargaining could close Australia's gender pay gap weren't accurate.

"They're saying, 'proceed with caution, despite what you've been told this is not necessarily what it stacks up to be'," he said.

But the department's assistant secretary Jennifer Wettinger said the bill was designed to deliver gender equity.

"What international research shows is multi-employer bargaining in particular has a positive impact on gender equality," she said.

Ms Wettinger said female-dominated, low-pay industries would benefit the most.

Senator Lambie remains concerned business competitors might be forced to bargain together, and said the focus should shift to improving Australia's award system.

"I just wonder if we could do a better job in that system," she said.

"If they don't believe they're getting paid enough, that takes me back to the award system."

The opposition is calling for more consultation, rejecting multi-employer bargaining.

Liberal senator Michaelia Cash pointed to department figures estimating multi-employer bargaining negotiations would cost a small business around $14,000.

She branded it "a small business bargaining tax" they would have to pay "for the privilege of being compelled potentially to negotiate an agreement".

In their dissenting report to the parliamentary inquiry, coalition senators wrote: "It's bad for the economy at a time of high inflation and elevated cost of living pressures."

"It does not provide adequate safeguards against malicious union behaviour, nor does it demonstrate how it will provide for wage growth or increased productivity."