Business groups dismiss Gillard's IR changes

AAP, with a staff reporter

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's changes to workplace relations have been slammed by business groups, which have labelled the nation's industrial relations (IR) discussions a "one-way street," according to media reports.

Over the weekend, Ms Gillard announced parents will have the right to request part-time work when they return from having a baby under the changes.

Ms Gillard said the government wants to take some of the burden off modern families who are struggling to balance work with caring for children and sometimes elderly relatives.

However, the flagged amendments have led to call of "election-year populism" from business groups, The Australian Financial Review reports.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson told the newspaper that the government's plan to give more rights to parents would result in more regulation on already struggling businesses as they deal with penalty rates and an increasing union presence.

Mr Anderson said Labor's goal for more family-friendly workplaces was admirable, but discussion had become "a one-way street for industrial changes.”

"There are serious issues around flexibility in the workplace which must be addressed to stop employers limiting hours because of penalty rates, to make businesses viable and to stem the losses caused by what is for companies an extremely inflexible regime," he said, according to the AFR.

Labor will seek to legislate as soon as possible to allow parents to request a return to flexible and part-time work as it works through the recommendations of its review of the Fair Work Act last year, she says.

"And their employer will have to respond to that (request)," she told reporters in New Zealand.

About 80 per cent of requests were satisfactorily resolved, but Ms Gillard said formalising the right would make employees more comfortable asking and the legislation would apply to mothers and fathers.

She said the government would deal with the second tranche of announcements this week and flagged further changes later in the year.

"The focus this week will be on that part of the workplace relations agenda which is really about work and family life," she said.

The prime minister said the government would also discuss some protections for roster changes and the onus on employers to consult their workers ahead of any changes.