The Business Council of Australia has set out a five-year program for reform of Australia's work place laws, arguing there is "no consistency or logic" to how penalty rates are set and calling for a new definition of ordinary working hours that could see an end to the nine-to-five work day.
In the retail sector, for example, the BCA suggests a move to 8am-8pm ordinary working hours which, it argues, would be more in line with community expectations about retail hours and in keeping with an increasingly 24/7 economy.
The BCA, which represents the biggest businesses in the country, does not object to penalty rates but says the process by which they are set needs to be simplified.
The BCA says penalty rates should be set by the Fair Work Commission [FWC] as part of its decision on the minimum wage. It says that on a Sunday, for example, a worker in the Aged Care sector gets 175 per cent of their base rate, 200 per cent in general retail but 125-150 per cent in the restaurant industry.
Chief executive Jennifer Westacott said change was needed to ensure the system worked for the next 20 to 30 years.
"Our fundamental point is that we want to see a shift between what is negotiated such as employ conditions and what are matters for business, which should be out of negotiations all together," she said.
"The more complexity in awards, the less flexibility in the labour market. And with that, we know that technological and digital disruption will become more of a problem."
The group argues for an economy-wide minimum rates for casual, overtime, penalty and shiftwork and including these in minimum wage orders. Such a move could well lead to cuts in penalty rates for some workers, but the BCA argues that, at an industry level, these rates could then be boosted through bargaining.
In a suggestion that will surprise some in the business sector, the BCA has backed what it calls Australia's high minimum wage and also says National Employment Standards, such as a 38-hour week and four weeks' holiday, should remain untouched.
The BCA says the 122 awards spread across different industries should be simplified and reduced to allow for greater flexibility while the number of matters that had to be formally bargained over, such as rostering, would be reduced.
The calls are contained in a submission to the Productivity Commission's top-to-bottom review of Australia's industrial landscape, which was launched this year.
The FWC should, itself, also be reformed with governance changes, a new skills-matrix to determine appointment, time-limited appointments for judges and an appeals mechanism for commission decisions, the BCA said. Tougher rules for union right of entry should also be introduced.
Asked if the federal government was up to the task of tackling workplace reform, Ms Westacott said the BCA "wants both sides of politics to get on the same page".
"No matter who is in government, these issues have to be addressed."
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