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Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News


Event: Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News
Date: Wednesday, 22 November 2023
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations

Kieran Gilbert, Sky News: Let’s return now to the deal that’s been done by the Federal Government with part of the energy sector when it comes to its industrial relations laws, that’s the resources sector. Other business groups not so happy with the government’s IR plans. One of those that’s been very critical is the Master Builders. The chief executive, Denita Wawn joins me live in the studio. Denita Wawn, the government is picking off the business groups, though, it’s got the AHA on board, it’s done a deal with Uber and the other gig economy operators. Now one of the resources sector groups as well. Is it time for the rest of the business community and your organisation to sit down with Tony Burke and strike up a compromise as well?

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Absolutely not. The peak organisations amongst which we are part of that group say this Bill, the cumulative impact of 300 pages, has got an absolute travesty in terms of the economy. It will be inflationary in its impact and we say that cherry picking of a few clauses here and there simply is not the solution. We need to restart. This dramatically changes the fundamental structure of our industrial relations system and we are disappointed, of course, that some of these groups have made a decision to compromise. And I note that the compromise that has been made by AREEA announced today, we understand will only cover some specialist subcontractors. It will certainly not, from our understanding, cover the specialist subcontractors that we’ve been concerned about in our sector.

Kieran: The government says that it’s basically all services contractors that have been excluded. You don’t buy that?

Denita: We don’t buy that. From what we’ve understand from AREEA, the organisation that has done this deal, it will not cover our specialist subcontractors.

Kieran: That’s the Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association.

Denita: That’s correct.

Kieran: It represents some big companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron. They’re comfortable with the deal.

Denita: Well, good on them. I can’t understand why they would be comfortable with it. We know that you cannot look at those sections in isolation. The cumulative impact of this legislation when it comes to independent contractors, subcontractors, casuals, union rights, and the complication of it is huge. Now, those big companies may think that they are big enough to look after themselves, but we represent 33,000 members across the country. 99 per cent of those are small to medium sized businesses.

Kieran: But do any of your companies, because if we get to the, I know you talk about the size of the bill, and it’s true, it is a complex bill, but the fundamental problem the government’s got is with labour hire, and labour hire being used to undercut in-house workers or being paid less than what in-house workers are paid. Are there construction companies that do that?

Denita: Not that we’re aware of and of course there are laws that already exist around sham contracting and so forth. There’s also provisions under certain EBAs. But I think we’ve got to be really conscious, Kieran, that this is a cumulative impact. We have specialist subcontracting services like bricklayers, tilers, roofers. They don’t bring in their own equipment necessarily. They certainly don’t bring in their own materials, and they’ve got to comply with work, health and safety laws for being on site. Under the definition they will more than, like, likely still come under this legislation, even with these amendments. But it goes one step further. The area that is being really missed out at the moment is independent contractors, self-employed tradies who will work a lot of their time, at least 70, 80 per cent, with one particular head contractor. They will be forced to be employees. So, we can’t look at this in isolation of the terminology used by government. That is a ruse by government when this is actually a bill that is far far bigger. It is structurally changed as our industrial relations system and will have a dramatic impact on small businesses around the country.

Kieran: So nothing, when you said you’re not willing to go and compromise, there’s nothing they can do to that bill to improve it?

Denita: No, you would need to start from scratch. It is simple as that. The amount of structural change this bill makes means that you would have to restart and look at the intent that the government set in the first place and focus on those small, narrow issues, not the broad approach that they have taken.

Kieran: Denita Wawn from the Master Builders Australia. Appreciate it.

Denita: Pleasure as always.

Media contact:
Dee Zegarac
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
0400 493 071


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