Government ditches plan to suspend Better Off Overall Test

The government has ditched its controversial plan to suspend a law ensuring workers are left better off overall when negotiating new pay ageements, after failing to secure support from the Senate crossbench.

The federal government had planned to give COVID-ravaged business two years to reach pay agreements without a requirement to ensure employees were better off.

The move to pause the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) was part of a suite of industrial relations brought to parliament in December, but has now been nixed after facing opposition from Senate crossbenchers.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the decision showed the government’s “willingness to listen and work constructively” with the crossbench.

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“Removing the modest amendment to the (BOOT) provision – a provision that Labor placed in the Fair Work Act in 2009 – also blows away the smokescreen that Labor has been hiding behind to justify its opposition to the wider package of reforms, including measures it knows will deliver greater protections for workers, help to regrow jobs and drive up wage growth,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said for “good faith discussions” to proceed it was “important that that provision no longer be pursued”.

“Where things can’t get done and the Parliament doesn’t support things, then why would we put people through that process?” he said on Tuesday.

The proposal was savaged by Labor, which claimed it paved the way for worker pay cuts.

The party insisted it would not support the omnibus bill regardless of whether the BOOT plan was removed.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese revealed his own vision for the Australian workplace last week, including a limit on the number of consecutive short-term contracts, and plans to explore portable leave entitlements for people in insecure work.

Labor industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said the backdown was borne of “political expediency”.

“Scott Morrison and Christian Porter have made it clear they are only ditching their plan to scrap the Better Off Overall Test because they cannot get it through the Parliament – not because they recognise it’s unfair,” he said.

But Mr Morrison accused the opposition of deliberately railroading productive discussions on industrial relations.

“The Labor Party hasn’t sought to engage with us at all. We got more engagement from the unions than we did with the Labor Party,” he said.

“The question now is, given that seemed to be the issue they had, why are they now going to vote against a bill that actually ensures people get paid?”

Mr Porter revealed the move might be necessary last week, saying the BOOT was “certainly featuring in the debate a fair amount”.

“I’m not pretending it hasn’t been raised by them,” he told Sky News.

“There’s enormous enthusiasm for some parts of the bill, less for others.

“That’s the process that we go through with the crossbench on virtually every bill that we want to see have secure passage through the Senate.”

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