13 October, 2022 12:04

John Durie: COSBOA confirms it “does not support the unionisation of small business” in response criticism of ACTU deal


SEPTEMBER 27, 2022


The chair of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) has taken the unprecedented step of formally releasing a statement of intent, in the wake of internal and external criticism of the small business group’s pre-Jobs Summit deal with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

The criticism was mainly directed at the lack of consultation with the membership, which is comprised of an array of small business organisations, before this month’s Jobs Summit.

COSBOA chair Matthew Addison supported chief executive Alexi Boyd, who bore the brunt of the criticism.

The statement of intent comes ahead of next month’s COSBOA annual meeting and was welcomed by members.

The statement, published on the group’s website on Monday night, said COSBOA’s “purpose is to advocate for small business — the backbone of the economy — and to have a voice distinct from big business to government, policy makers and the community”.

On the ACTU deal, it said the memorandum of understanding “is intended to recognise one aspect of the many conversations to pursue our objective, that small business has the flexibility to be more productive and to employ more people”.

“We have not agreed to any particular action, we have agreed to discuss topics and options. Our intention is to obtain productivity enhancing changes, rewards for employees and business while improving protection of both business and employees.”

COSBOA noted that collaboration “requires our representatives to work against the current system that is stacked against small business, by having conversations with many organisations such as ACTU, BCA [Business Council of Australia] and the government who previously may not have understood the impact of their mandates on a small business. We will seek to educate, to inform and to influence. “

Addison said the statement is an attempt to clarify COBOA’s position.

“COSBOA does not: support the unionisation of small business; support compulsory sector-wide or industry bargaining, including compulsory multi-employer bargaining; support pattern bargaining; support any measure that enables or would make strike action more likely within an organisation, within a sector, across sectors or across groups of businesses,” the statement said.

The statement said COSBOA will work to address the following specific matters: a single “all-hours or blended rate”; flexible part-time or full-time employment; the permanent to casual conversion process; stand-down provisions; and unfair dismissal.

The position is vastly different to the line presented by the federal government and others prior to the Jobs Summit.

Addison added: “COSBOA’s role has always been to listen to stakeholders, and to the guide the creation of an ideal policy environment, one in which small businesses and their particular circumstances are recognised, fully included and empowered to grow and thrive. This has not and won’t change.”

COSBOA CEO Alexi Boyd said: “The work of COSBOA is to do the hard work of ensuring there is equity and fairness in the system, and to advocate for flexibility, and fit-for-purpose models for small business operators.

“We do and have always listened to various stakeholders, to understand how we can make things better, easier and more effective for small businesses.”

In the statement, COSBOA argues “small businesses need a system that enables flexibility in order to be more productive and to employ more people”.

“The current system is not flexible and easy to navigate for small business who don’t have the in-house resources to interpret complex awards and/or negotiate EBAs with their workers and therefore, allow them to compete more effectively with big businesses for talent,” it continued.

“As a result, small business owners are often forced to fall back on the modern award structures, which constrain their ability to negotiate other aspects of employment and provide many of the benefits, such as flexibility, to their employees and to enjoy the associated productivity benefits.”

Small business employers are rarely ‘experts’ in workplace relations, said COSBOA in the statement.

“Many small businesses are run by an individual, a couple or a family and it is often the owners of the small business who must navigate all the requirements without the teams of HR and legal staff at the disposal of larger organisations.

“Small businesses seek a simpler system. The complex nature of awards and the inhibitions to embark on any agreement due to the current processes and limitations of the BOOT [Better Off Overall Test], with one example being the requirement to consider the hypothetical employee, need to change.”