Chamber of Commerce urges bargaining for penalty rates

PENALTY rates would no longer be regulated in employment awards, but negotiated directly between workers and employers under a proposal from the nation's biggest business group.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry outlined its long-term plans for workplace relations in a submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry released on Thursday.

Chief executive Kate Carnell said the plan was not something to be enacted now, but over the medium to longer term.

She said the ACCI wanted two new sets of simpler work laws to replace the current system.

She said under the group's proposal, one package would set minimum wages, standards and penalty rates for sectors such as nursing and emergency services, while a second would govern workplace bargaining.

But the chamber's submission also detailed a move to "an environment where wages and conditions are overwhelmingly set by workplace bargaining", including penalty rates negotiated under agreements rather than the current set regulations.

Ms Carnell said it was near impossible for small to medium businesses to understand and fulfil the requirements of the Fair Work Act and the 122 awards regulated under the Act.

The ACCI proposal would essentially see bargains being negotiated by individual workers or by unions or collectives with employers for penalty rates, specifically in the tourism, hospitality and retail industries.

The submission noted "such a shift may impact some employees during a transitional period" and those impacts should be taken into account.

Despite ordering the commission's inquiry, the government seems to be baulking at wide workplace reform and has previously promised no major changes until at least its second term.

Ms Carnell said despite concerns about the government's plans, the industry saw it as a "once in 30 years" chance at reforming workplace laws and the submission was a genuine attempt at reform.