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A significant shakeup to Australia’s workplace laws is nothing more than a ploy to drive increased union membership and risks sending the economy into reverse, the nation’s peak industry group has warned.

Set to be unveiled by Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke later this year, the reforms include making it easier for casual workers to become permanent, regulating the gig economy, and clamping down on labour hire arrangements.

Speaking at the National Press Club, the chief executive of one of the nation’s largest business groups, Innes Willox, slammed the proposed changes, describing the government as “delivering a union agenda”.

“These measures are designed to grow union membership,” Mr Willox said.

“We all deserve better. Changes to workplace laws need to be based on facts and research, not on political slogans and union claims.

“None of these measures are designed to improve productivity, jobs, growth and investment which are the ingredients of a successful economy.

Mr Willox warned the changes being considered would introduce “unnecessary new barriers” to employ Australia’s 2.5 million casual workers.

“Such an outcome might be welcomed by the union movement, but it will hurt many employees who may find it harder to find casual work,” he said.

Instead, Mr Willox said the government should focus on making the workplace relations system “more transparent, simple and less complex”, and “have a really solid look at tax reform”.

While the government plans to ensure subcontractors and labour hire workers were not deliberately paid less than their permanent colleagues for doing the same work, Mr Willox used his address to highlight the “fundamental problems” in distinguishing between jobs.

“Two employees covered by the same classification often perform very different jobs … two employees in the same classification can have very different levels of experience and competency.

“It will kill productivity and remove the incentive for people to work hard, increase their skills and take home more pay.

“The policy is an unjustified attack on the labour hire sector and it will hurt the many businesses and workers that rely on it.

Mr Willox also took aim at potential changes that would make it harder for tradies, electricians, plumbers and other independent contractors, to find work in the future.

Union membership has collapsed in recent decades, with less than one in ten workers in the private sector currently choosing to join a union.

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By Rahul

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