Event: Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News
Date: Thursday, 5 October 2023, 2.30pm AEDT
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations; independent contracting
Kieran Gilbert, host Sky News: An inquiry into the Government’s proposed industrial relations reforms is underway. It’s been holding public hearings this week and next right across the country. The Closing Loopholes Bill contains a raft of changes, including a new definition for casual employment, minimum conditions for gig workers, greater powers for the Fair Work Commission and reform to labour hire arrangements. For more on this, let’s bring in Denita Wawn. She’s chief executive of the Master Builders Australia. Denita, thanks for your time as always. Clearly, you’re concerned about this Bill. You’ve welcomed the government’s other proposals on skills and so on but you believe that will be overwhelmed by the negatives in this BIll. What are your concerns?
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: There’s a myriad of concerns with this Bill to the extent to which that we say should be dumped entirely and the Government restarts the process. It changes dramatically the way in which industrial relations has worked in this country for decades. For us there are really four key areas of concern. It fundamentally changes the nature of independent contracting and in many instances, forces people to be an employee because of the change in the definition of what is an employee as well as corresponding changes to unfair contracts and also sham contracting. We’re concerned about our subcontractors being thrown into the labour hire provisions. The increased added powers of the Fair Work Commission, along with increases in union right of entry with little or no notice. So, a myriad of issues that will dramatically change that way in which our members and the rest of businesses around the country manage their affairs and will be a burden on productivity.
Kieran: On the independent contractors. The Bill says that the contractor or the person concerned has to carry out their business or their services contract on a digital platform. So it specifically says independent contractors that work via a digital platform. To me it sounds like they are focusing on gig workers, aren’t they?
Denita: Well, this is the interesting thing and this is the sleight of hand, unfortunately of this Bill. There are, in terms of independent contractors, there are two components to the Bill. One is in specifically relating to independent contracts if they work in the gig economy. But on the other hand there are also a range of other changes relating to the definition of employee, the issue around changes to the independent contracting arrangements that currently are under the Independent Contractors Act. There are changes around sham contracting and also around unfair contract provisions. So, while there are employee-like gig issues, the culmination of the other changes to those current arrangements in terms of independent contracting impacts every single independent contractor in this country of which there are 260,000 independent contractors in our industry alone.
Kieran: So you’re saying it’s not just contractors on digital platforms? Because the Government has said they’re focussing on the four areas that they call the big four include wage theft, the gig economy, things that they have talked about since opposition, casuals, labour hire. They are the sort of big areas. Are you saying it’s not just contractors that use digital platforms that are going to be hit?
Denita: Absolutely. You are spot on Kieran. We have always been concerned that it has been the intent of the Government to go broader than just employee-like in the gig economy. This Bill shows that in fact that intent is real. That they will impact every single independent contractor in this country in some form and it is far beyond gig platform workers and as such that is why we have always raised our concerns and that is why we are strongly urging the Senate Committee when we appear before it tomorrow in hearings in Perth that this Bill simply goes too far and they need to restart it to just narrow down what their election commitment is. Because this is far, far broader than what was committed and given to the Australian public in the election last year.
Kieran: The other thing that the Bill does suggest though is that for an employee-like worker they must also satisfy a low bargaining power, low remuneration or a low degree of authority over the performance of the work. Does that not provide some safeguard?
Denita: No because that relates to the employee-like gig worker provisions. It doesn’t apply to the changes on independent contracting. So this is the immensity of the changes of this Bill is structured in a 300-odd page Bill, 500 pages of explanatory memorandum and while the Government used tag lines to say they are only focusing on certain areas the reality is for all of us IR nerds is that there is far, far greater consequences than the headlines that are argued by the Government. We’re calling that out. Every other employer organisation is calling it out and we’ve just recently, last night, put in a 50-odd page submission that highlights why we are so incredibly concerned about this Bill.
Kieran: In your news release, you said that the Government has not made a case for the changes. The Government did announce a lot of these commitments back in 2021 like the gig workers issues, like casuals, so it’s not like they have come out of the blue with this focus, have they?
Denita: They announced on a two-page document certain changes that were very narrow but could be read very broadly. We had consistently prior to the election, called for more further detail. The Government was not, the opposition at the time, now in government, were not willing to give us that detail. And that’s far, far different to what we saw with then Shadow Minister Julia Gillard in the 2007 election where they put a really detailed IR policy together. So the Government has gone far broader than what they ever flagged pre-election and it covers a far greater number of businesses than ever anticipated by employers prior to the election. So, we say it goes too far. They’re not closing loopholes. They’re creating more and more problems and as a consequence, it has an impact on our capacity to deliver whether it comes to housing or other infrastructure in this country.
Kieran: Denita Wawn from Master Builders Australia. We’re a safe place for IR nerds here so it’s great to have you.
Denita: Thank you.
Kieran: Talk to you soon.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
0400 493 071