Employers will not be able to ban staff from talking about their salaries under proposed workplace laws to help close the gender pay gap.
It would also become easier for the industrial umpire to order wage increases for workers so that men and women get the same pay for equivalent work.
Employment Minister Tony Burke will introduce the first tranche of his industrial relations reforms to parliament next week.
The bill will include a ban on secrecy clauses that stop employees discussing their pay, which Mr Burke said were often used to conceal gender pay imbalances.
The legislation also promises to put gender equity at the centre of Australia’s employment laws and will introduce two new panels inside the Fair Work Commission: one on pay equity and another on the care and community sector.
The bill will put in place a statutory “equal remuneration principle” that will make it easier for the commission to order pay increases for low-paid, female-dominated industries.
Queensland has a similar principle that’s designed to ensure gender-based assumptions are not used to assess work value.
“A key objective of this bill will be to help close the gender pay gap,” Mr Burke said.
“Women should not be paid less than men – it’s that simple.”
But Liberal senator Simon Birmingham said he was worried by the proposed changes and the impact they might have on small businesses.
“We have real concerns about the drive towards areas of essentially collective bargaining Labor is seeking to pursue,” he told the ABC.
“We’ll be looking to test with the business community whether they’ve actually achieved consensus or whether this is … just providing what the union movement wanted without consideration of the needs of small businesses and how they could be impacted by some of these reforms.”
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox criticised the government’s consultation process on the changes and said he was “enormously surprised” they’d gone through cabinet.
“There has never been any discussion around what exactly is being proposed because employers haven’t been told what’s being proposed,” he told the ABC.
“At the very least, you could say there’s deep frustration among employers and employer groups at how the government has run this process … we’re a bit in the dark exactly as to what the government is proposing because they haven’t shared anything with us.”
Absent from the first stage of reforms were controversial plans to bolster multi-employer bargaining rights, which the federal government committed to during its jobs and skills summit in September.
Unions say the reforms would allow employers from different businesses to pool resources to advocate for pay increases, but some business groups warn it could lead to a spike in industrial action and drag on productivity.
Mr Burke said further measures in the “secure jobs, better pay bill” would be announced before it was introduced to parliament.