Just how damaging will the Federal Labor Government’s industrial relations reform be to the Australian economy? The first half of the reform passed in a “sneaky deal” with backbenchers on the final sitting day of the parliamentary year, has already been labelled a “toxic attack” on the resources sector and an act of “economic vandalism” which will exacerbate the already severe cost-of-living crisis. And the business community, led by the resources sector, has vowed to fight on in the hope of winding back the changes — even if it takes a change of government to do so. The changes will stop companies from contracting workers through a third party and paying them less than rates agreed in existing enterprise agreements. And while the Government says they have simply closed a loophole that businesses have exploited to undercut workers’ pay, industry says the so-called same job, same pay provisions will result in less fairness in the workplace for all. Industry says it will deny workers the right to be treated individually by negotiating for more pay for harder or better work. It asks which is fairer: that a worker is paid a wage in line with their experience, skill level and initiative, or that their pay is determined by what others are already being paid — even if those other workers have been in the job years or decades longer? They also say the changes will affect Australia’s reputation as a good place to do business, as other countries are falling over themselves to offer investment incentives. We cannot afford to lose out on these opportunities, because investors will not hesitate to take their money elsewhere if they see a better deal. And the resources sector warns that it will put a wrecking ball through productivity, at a time when the Government should be busy pulling all the policy levers at its disposal to get the economy moving again. Because it is only through productivity, and a prosperous economy, that will get wages moving again, alleviating the pressure on household budgets. Yet the Federal Government appears blind to the impact of suddenly yanking the handbrake on the nation’s economic engine room. And there’s more to come. When Parliament resumes next year, Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke will try to push through the second tranche of reforms, aimed at making it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent positions. This has the hospitality and retail sectors — and the many small business owners who operate in these sectors — deeply concerned. A survey of Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA members shows 15 per cent of respondents would stop hiring casuals altogether if the changes come through, while another 20 per cent would hire fewer staff. Fifteen per cent say they would have to increase prices to cope — bad news for the many households already struggling with the cost of living. If that does happen, both businesses and households will know who they have to thank.