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Andrew Brown

Changes to workplace laws on the cards

Tony Burke says the new laws would provide extra leverage for workers in female-dominated sectors. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

New workplace laws will better protect employees in female-dominated industries such as childcare and aged care, according to the employment minister.

As the opposition accuse the government of attempting to rush through the legislation, Tony Burke said constructive changes to the proposed laws were being considered, following discussions with unions and business groups.

"We're going into extra territory to try to really focus on providing extra leverage, particularly in feminised industries," Mr Burke told the Nine Network on Sunday.

"They're not militant workplaces, they're the one that this reform is very squarely aimed at."

Under the proposed laws, employees will be legally required to reach agreements with employees who request flexible hours.

Multi-employer bargaining would also be introduced, with the wages umpire getting new powers to resolve long-running disputes.

However, business groups have raised concerns with possible amendments to the bill that would give unions the power to veto multi-employer agreements.

Opposition employment spokeswoman Michaelia Cash said the reform would lead to more strike action across the country.

She accused the government of trying to rush the passage of the bill, with a committee process examining the legislation scheduled to take just three weeks.

"This is without a doubt a piece of legislation that is going to wreak industrial and economic chaos on this country," Senator Cash told Sky News on Sunday.

"Employers this weekend across Australia are scrambling to understand a 250-page piece of legislation.

"Everybody in Australia wants higher wages, but unleashing an industrial relations system with radical changes that takes us back to the 1970s is not the way to do it."

Mr Burke, however, said the government was open to negotiations about how the bill would function.

"The thing that I won't compromise on is the need to get wages moving, people had their wages deliberately held back for 10 years," he said,

"Now if you look at what's happening with inflation, we just have to get wages moving again."

Many of the proposed industrial relations changes flagged in the bill stemmed from the government's jobs and skills summit held in Canberra earlier this year.

Nationals leader David Littleproud attended the summit, although has hit out at sections of the bill, saying it would give too much power to unions.

"We want to see wages go up, but there's a responsible way to do that, and that's through the Fair Work Commission in making sure that they can determine that," he told the Nine Network.

"We're just saying let's get the balance right, let's not let the pendulum swing too far one way, because what will happen ... is invariable the cost of living will go up even further."

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