PM slams campaign against IR bill

The prime minister has lashed out at resources companies threatening to sink millions into a campaign against the proposed expansion to multi-employer bargaining.

Labor is trying to push through alterations to industrial relations laws that would make it easier for workers from multiple employers to band together to bargain for higher wages and better conditions.

The proposed multi-employer bargaining changes have attracted criticism from parts of the business community, with concerns they will result in more strikes and drive up unemployment.

As such, the resource industry's peak body has vowed to launch an expensive public campaign against multi-employer bargaining unless the sector is carved out.

Anthony Albanese questioned the credibility of companies proposing to campaign against reforms.

"I do know that there is an issue of credibility and companies saying 'We have a whole lot of money to throw at a campaign but we don't have any money to pay workers better'," Mr Albanese told reporters in Queensland on Friday.

He said reforming industrial relations laws to boost wages was an election commitment.

"It has been a priority of the government and one of the first things that we did in government was to put in a submission to the Fair Work Commission saying that those people on the minimum wage should not go backwards," he said.

During a Senate inquiry hearing into the Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill on Friday, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott raised concerns about tipping the balance away from single enterprise agreements and opening multi-employer bargaining up to all sectors of the economy.

She said that during the jobs and skills summit, the multi-employer bargaining discussion centred around low-paid workers and female-dominated sectors of the economy.

"We were very supportive of fixing the low-paid worker stream," she told the Senate committee.

She proposed a couple of fixes to the multi-employer bargaining rules, including excluding high-paid industries with a history of bargaining, such as construction and mining.

"Including mining would represent a major risk to the sector that is underpinning so much of our economic growth," she said.

Ms Westacott also said businesses with fewer than 100 employees should be excluded.

"Unless the changes I have outlined today occur, the bill runs the risk of serious damage to workers, increasing unemployment and causing serious damage to the community through increased industrial action," she warned.

Employment relations expert Chris Wright told the committee there was a chance the new laws would actually reduce strike action.

While he stressed it was "hard to gaze into the crystal ball" and predict the future, he said the legislation would hand the industrial umpire greater powers to resolve disputes.

"With some of the protracted disputes happening at the moment, the Fair Work Commission has no power to intervene and resolve them - this bill should make it easier to resolve them," he said.

"But it's a big maybe."

Trade unionist Michele O'Neil told the committee the bill was imperfect but was a step in the right direction to get wages moving.

"The bill starts to fix the broken bargaining system in this country in this country," the Australian Council of Trade Unions president said.

"It's on life support, it's so out of balance, workers have almost no leverage in the bargaining system."