The ACTU has worked with the Attorney General over several days proposing changes to draft legislation to enact the JobKeeper payments.

Australian unions have been calling for the introduction of a wage subsidy to keep workers in jobs as a critical component of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian unions continue to believe it is not necessary to amend the Fair Work Act to introduce this wage subsidy, but it is clear that the Government and many employer groups do not share this view.

We had been concerned that several employer groups had been advocating for a widespread removal of workers’ rights akin to WorkChoices and that changes to the Act would override the ability of employers and employees and their representative to negotiate appropriate, measured and time-limited changes as we have since the beginning of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whilst the Government has not agreed to all of the proposals we have put to them, they have listened to a number of these concerns and as a result the proposed legislation is now:

• Strictly time-limited

• Applies only to employers eligible for the JobKeeper payment

• Protects the rate of pay for workers ensuring they are properly paid for all work undertaken at the legal hourly rate of pay, not artificially capped at the $1,500/fortnight wage subsidy

• Allows variation in working conditions only after consultation and in many cases requires the agreement of employees; and

• Allows any dispute to be arbitrated by the Fair Work Commission to ensure reasonableness and fairness

We remain opposed to the restrictive eligibility rules which exclude millions of workers, in particular many casuals and visa workers who have lost or face losing their jobs because of the pandemic.

They should also be eligible to receive the payment as they face no less a financial struggle and should be supported to keep their jobs and connections to employers for when this crisis is over.

We will continue to campaign to have these workers covered by the JobKeeper payment.

Australian unions will continue to work constructively with both the Government and reasonable employer groups to protect workers’ rights, to save jobs and to keep people safe. We thank the Attorney General for engaging constructively at this difficult time.