It allows businesses whose turnover is down between 10 and 30 per cent, so they are no longer eligible for JobKeeper payments, to drop staff hours to 60 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels if there is less work for them because of the pandemic.
“That is going to mean flexibilities continue and jobs will be saved,” Attorney-General Christian Porter said in question time on Tuesday.
Opposition industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said Labor would pass the bill because it did not give the same flexibility to businesses whose revenue had not dropped at all, but might try to amend it in the Senate.
“We called on the government to abandon its proposal to extend emergency industrial relations powers to businesses that had fully recovered and they have,” Mr Burke said. “So we will be supporting the legislation.”
The Labor caucus considered the bill on Tuesday and while some members raised concerns, none proposed specific amendments.
Josh Cullinan, secretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, said businesses could still be profitable despite a 10 per cent revenue drop and argued the changes would put the burden of the pandemic onto workers. “It just seems to provide an opportunity to employers that is grossly unfair,” he said.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss James Pearson said the flexibility would help Australians stay connected to work. “We need to be doing everything we can to help people in business adapt to COVID and employees keep their jobs.”
The changes to JobKeeper are likely to affect more people than originally envisaged, with payroll data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggesting a sharp fall in employment through early August.
The bureau reported that between July 25 and August 8, payrolls nationally fell by 0.8 per cent while wages dropped by 0.6 per cent. Payrolls slipped by 1.6 per cent in Victoria, 1.5 per cent in the ACT and 0.9 per cent in Queensland. Over the past month, payrolls fell by 2.8 per cent in Victoria.
NAB senior economist Ivan Colhoun said the drop in payrolls suggested up to 50,000 jobs disappeared in August.
“This leaves Victorian payroll employment close to the previous lows recorded in April, with overall Australian payrolls employment still down a massive 4.9 per cent on pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
Arts and recreation, agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors all recorded substantial drops in payroll jobs.
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.