David Pocock is facing mounting pressure to cave in and rubberstamp Labor's industrial relations changes, with one union leader claiming families may be unable to afford Christmas presents if the contentious bill is delayed.
Labor's hopes of ramming the legislation through this year have been thrown into doubt as it struggles to convince independent senator for the ACT David Pocock, and fellow crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie and Tammy Tyrrell, to back it.
In a bid to head off concerns from the crossbench and appease business groups, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has agreed to a number of amendments ahead of a lower house debate on Tuesday.
Senator Pocock has welcomed the changes, but is yet to declare his final position as he continues to call for the push for the bill to be split up.
The stance has prompted a backlash from some union groups and their supporters.
'Tiny leg up'
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus has a message for Senator Pocock: "Do not stand in the way of Australians getting the pay rises that they deserve and need".
"Wages are totally flat on the mat, and they are not going to lift unless workers are given this leg up. It's a tiny little leg up," she told The Canberra Times.
"It's been fought by big business in this country. They're going to do everything they can to stop it, and the people that are going to hurt average Australians."
Labor has two weeks to pass the bill before parliament breaks for the year. Its next opportunity would likely be at least three months away.
Ms McManus said workers suffering a cost-of-living crisis simply did not have that time, claiming further delays would leave many "not being able to afford Christmas presents".
"The minute [employers] know that the laws are going to change, of course they're going to have to engage more constructively with their workers," she said.
"They'll start thinking: the game's up, we're going to have to start negotiating."
Mr Burke agreed to concessions over the weekend, meaning small businesses would not be forced into multi-employer bargaining by larger companies voting in favour of it.
"We will not compromise on the principle of getting wages moving and getting them moving quickly," Mr Burke said.
"But we've been happy to listen to feedback about how to make sensible improvements to the practical application of the bill."
Ms McManus warned any further moves to "water down" the legislation would inevitably keep wages stagnant.
"That is what Alan Joyce wants. [He] wants parts of the bill trashed because he wants to keep on driving wages down and gaming the system," she said.
Senator Pocock welcomed Labor's changes, but urged it to go further by splitting the bill, allowing it to pass its less contentious elements.
"In order to urgently deliver pay rises for the lowest paid workers, the government should move forward with the supported (low paid) and co-operative multi-enterprise bargaining streams now," he said.
But he insisted more time was needed to work through the "confusion and complexity" surrounding the bill.
"This is not about delaying, it's about having the time needed to do the job I've been elected to do properly," he wrote on Twitter earlier.
"If you believe the headlines there are only two choices: supporting workers and passing it as quickly as possible or backing business and stopping it. This simply isn't true."
The Coalition is vehemently opposed to the legislation, in particular the expansion of multi-employer bargaining and the abolition of the construction watchdog.
Opposition workplace relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash on Monday described the bill as a "dog's breakfast" and said the decision to amend it was proof it wasn't ready to be debated.
The Coalition pushed unsuccessfully to establish a joint select committee to investigate the proposal.
"The bill is a fundamentally flawed bill," Senator Cash said.
Innes Willox, the head of peak employer association Ai Group, echoed that sentiment.
"The willingness of the federal government to begin a process of amending its bill is welcome, however with unjustifiably expanded multi-employer bargaining and associated strike rights at its heart the bill remains fatally flawed," he said.
Later in Question Time, independent MP Allegra Spender accused Labor of hiding its plan before the May election, saying wage rises can be achieved through the award "rather than through complex IR legislation".
Mr Albanese acknowledged Ms Spender had engaged "constructively" over the proposed changes, but insisted the government had been "very, very clear" about its intent to raise wages.
"There is a need to reform the system," he said.
"That was something we took and engaged very much with business and continue to do so, as well as with the unions ... We believe very clearly we have a mandate for it."