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Flexibility to remain for virus-hit bosses

Businesses no longer eligible for wage subsidies will retain emergency powers to change workers’ conditions if turnover is down 10 per cent.

Pandemic-inspired changes to workplace law are set to be extended until March next year under legislation to be introduced to federal parliament on Wednesday.

Firms continuing to receive JobKeeper wage subsidies will still have the power to change employees’ hours, duties or work location.

Others booted off the scheme will also retain the capacity to change conditions if they prove a 10 per cent reduction in turnover compared to the same period last year.

That cohort won’t be able to reduce hours by more than 60 per cent and will be banned from directing employees to work less than two hours a day.

The so-called “legacy” employers will also have to give seven days’ notice for changes, up from three.

Businesses abusing the powers could face fines of more than $66,000, with individuals at risk of a $13,200 penalty.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said industrial relations flexibility had been crucial to keeping employees connected with their employer.

“COVID will remain a part of our lives until a vaccine is widely available and so, continuing flexibility to help businesses and their staff adapt to the new normal is critical,” he said on Monday.

Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said the government had backed down on the most extreme part of its original plan.

“It was ridiculous for the government to suggest that businesses that had fully recovered – and are in some cases doing better than they were before the pandemic – should get to keep emergency powers to cut their workers’ hours, pay and rights,” he told AAP.

The proposed changes to workplace laws are part of the Morrison government’s scaled-down extension of JobKeeper and the JobSeeker unemployment payment.

All businesses will have to requalify for wage subsidies at the end of September, when the initial scheme is due to end.

Labor wants both support payments retained at their existing rates for six months.

The legislation would cut JobKeeper payments from $1500 to $1200 at the end of September, and then down to $1000 from December to March.

JobSeeker has temporarily been doubled to a maximum $1100 per fortnight through to September.

The government wants to reduce it to $800 until the end of the year before developing a longer-term plan.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said it was important for businesses not fully recovered to get extended access to industrial relations flexibility.

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