Event: Shaun Schmitke interview with Gary Adshead, 6PR Mornings
Date: Monday, 22 May 2023, 11.05am AWST
Speakers: Gary Adshead, host 6PR Mornings; Shaun Schmitke, Deputy CEO and National Director Industrial Relations Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations, building and construction, ‘employee-like’
Gary Adshead, host 6PR Mornings: Welcome back. Well if you’re a self-employed tradie or contractor for example on a construction site or at a mine camp you might need to listen up to this because according to the person I’m going to be speaking to there are changes afoot from a federal point of view in terms of industrial relations reforms and it could impact how you are a self-employed tradie under the management of a company overseeing a project for example. Let’s have a chat now to Shaun Schmitke, who is Deputy CEO and National Director of Industrial Relations at Master Builders Australia. He joins us on the line now. Good day Shaun.
Shaun Schmitke, Deputy CEO Master Builders Australia: Good day, Garry. How are you?
Gary: Yeah good. Is this happening a bit under the radar? I mean, you’re saying that this will be catastrophic as far as 264,000 self-employed tradies are concerned for example.
Shaun: Yes. Look it is one of those under the radar initiatives and it comes from a promise the Government made at the last election as part of it’s secure jobs policy where they promised that they would look at new and emerging forms of work and cited things like gig-work and on-demand arrangements facilitated by digital platforms such as app-based food delivery services. And they proposed at the time that they would give the Fair Work Commission power to regulate those types of arrangements and set minimum standards for work of that type. But of course the problem with that policy at the time and has been confirmed since is that they’ve left the door open to capture potentially the 260,000 plus independent, self-employed tradies in building and construction.
Gary: How have they done it? I mean what can you see in the fine print?
Shaun: Well, look as I say the fine print confirms our concerns that the Government intends to go much further than gig-work and they now want to capture independent contractors. And what this means is that independent contractors could be forced to become employees. It could make them subject to one-size fits all arrangements dictated by unions which have a big presence in building and construction as you know. And it could also take away people’s rights to basically decide to be their own boss to decide to work for themselves and choose the type of work they do and what they charge for that work.
Gary: So do we mean project to project? I.e. if you came in as a tradie, a self-employed tradie to work on a contract you would have to be brought under one agreement for that particular project whether it be a hospital being built or a new mine site? Is that what you’re talking about? That it would change the dynamics of the self-employed tradie or contractor going in there doing what they do for the rate they would normally do it at?
Shaun: That’s exactly right. Look, as you know Gary, everybody knows that building and construction because of the way that the building work is performed the whole industry is underpinned by a model involving independent and specialist subcontracting and it’s operated this way in Australia for over 100 years and operates all around the world in exactly the same way. It’s not a new and emerging form of work at all and in fact there’s a lot of long-standing and comprehensive laws that already apply to the use of independent contracting in Australia and a lot of specific building and construction industry laws as well. So, you’re exactly right. It’s a type of arrangement where somebody could come onto a site and all of a sudden they have lost that right to become an independent contractor and they’re forced to work under enterprise agreement conditions dictated by unions.
Gary: And clearly, does that, well I don’t know you tell me, does that mean the tradies would have to become union members in order to be part of that agreement or not?
Shaun: Yeah well look there’s a couple of consequences of this. I mean, as I say, it could force independent contractors to become workers. It could remove their rights and their freedoms to decide to work for themselves and set the rates of pay they want to set. And of course, it could also drive up costs for consumers. It could make it harder to find a tradie when you need one and it creates a whole new system of potentially unnecessary red tape. I mean this is a big threat to all independent contractors. Not just building and construction. And it really does undermine people’s compacity to go and start their own small business to get up and go and work for themselves.
Gary: I was going to say, the tax implications could be quite serious for those small businesses as you just described.
Shaun: Exactly right. I mean there’s a lot of tax implications and there’s a whole raft of ramifications from this policy that could arise. Now I don’t think the Government has necessarily thought this through. I mean being frank if this is all about the gig-workers and app-based delivery drivers well then if the Government wants to implement this policy they should just limit the scope to those types of people. That is a new and emerging type of work. We all understand that this is something that hasn’t existed before and if that’s what the Government wants to target then that’s what they should target. It doesn’t need to go any further. We’ve had long-standing arrangements which are already comprehensively regulated, and it takes away the rights of people who want to work for themselves.
Gary: Can I ask whether you think the unions and the Government could suggest that tradies would be better off financially under this scheme?
Shaun: Well I don’t think that’s the case. I mean that well may be their thinking but at the end of the day independent contractors is that [inaudible]. So it’s not as though people are dictating rates to contractors. It’s the contractors themselves. And they’re the ones that decide how much they’re going for, what type of work they do and when they’re going to do that work. Not the other way around. And if people at the moment think the rates that they’re charging aren’t enough then they’ve got the capacity to put that up. I’m sure, Gary, anyone that will know, that are renovating their house, built a new house or tried to find a tradie recently [inaudible] and is, in fact, it’s difficult to find tradies [inaudible].
Gary: I think we’re about to lose him. I think we have lost him. Are you still there Shaun?
Shaun: Yes I’m here carry.
Gary: Just spin your aerial around. I.e. your head a little bit. I’m nearly finished but let’s have another crack at this. Where are the changes at in terms of the timeline?
Shaun: Well the Government is consulting on the changes at the moment. We’ve put in some very comprehensive submissions to the Government and explained to them all of the adverse outcomes that could arise if they don’t rule us out. So we’re just waiting to see what the Government does in the near future. They have said that they would introduce these laws in the later part of this year. We’ve yet to see exactly the detail of those laws but all indications are that our concerns will come to fruition and if that’s the case well it’s bad news for independent contracting.
Gary: Alright. We’ll watch and see how it develops. I appreciate you joining me Shaun.
Shaun: Thanks for your time, Gary.
Gary: Shaun Schmitke there. Deputy CEO and National Director of Industrial Relations at the Master Builders Australia.
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