Small business weighs in on workplace bill

Opposition to the federal government's workplace reform bill is heating up, with the small business lobby voicing concerns about the expanded multi-employer bargaining rights.

In the lead-up to the jobs and skills summit in September, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia broke ranks with other groups to entertain discussion on multi-employer bargaining.

At the time, COSBOA made it clear it did not want to see small businesses forced into mandatory bargaining arrangements.

But, in a submission to a Senate inquiry, it now says it does not support multi-employer bargaining and wants a 15-employee exclusion limit boosted to omit all small businesses from bargaining of this nature.

"COSBOA has grave concerns about this aspect of the bill and the inadvertent impacts on small businesses within a supply chain and the risk of being roped in," the submission said.

The group has called for an overhaul of the modern awards system as the best outcome for its members.

It says small businesses fall back on the awards system because they don't have the resources to negotiate with workers and deliver flexibility and other benefits to help them compete with bigger outfits for talent.

Although due this week, the report based on the inquiry into the bill has been delayed until Tuesday.

Chair Tony Sheldon said the committee, which received almost 100 submissions, needed more time to consider evidence and finish deliberations.

The workplace relations bill has already passed the lower house and will be debated in the Senate in the next fortnight, with the government looking to pass the laws by year's end.

But for the laws to pass the upper house, they will need the support of all 12 Greens senators and at least one crossbencher, with negotiations underway with key senators such as independent David Pocock.

Speaking to ABC Radio, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott backed Senator Pocock's suggestion of a statutory review of the laws after 12 months.

She also said she was worried big employers could be forced to bargain together under the proposed legislation.

"Now, I represent these companies but it is not a good thing for the big employers to be forced to bargain together," she said.

"That's not going to be good for small business, that's not going to be good for innovation, that's going to be anti-competitive."

Ms Westacott said the focus should remain on fixing the low paid stream.

"We've got to keep trying to work through and make sure we don't end up with something that has unintended consequences of delaying people's wages, causing widespread industrial action," she said.

But unions say Australia urgently needs improved access to multi-employer bargaining.

The International Trade Union Confederation says the proposed legislation would bring Australia's industrial relations system in line with other advanced economies.