Event: Denita Wawn interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda
Date: Monday, 22 May 2023, 9.45am AEST
Speakers: Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations, building and construction, ‘employee-like’
Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda: A peak body for the construction industry has warned it will push back on the Government’s second wave of industrial relations reforms. Master Builders Australia says the proposed measures “represent one of the most significant and real attacks on the rights self-employed and independent contractors.” So, joining me live now is the chief executive of Master Builders Australia Denita Wawn. Denita, thanks so much for your time. What exactly are you talking about here?
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: The Government has had a policy for quite some time that it would change contractors who were deemed ’employee-like’ to be forced to be an employee. There was a question mark about who that would actually apply to. But it’s been very evident since the discussion paper was released three or four weeks ago that it can apply to independent contractors. Regardless of whether they had made the decision willingly in their best interests that they may well be forced to become an employee. We say that is unacceptable. People should have the freedom of choice to determine whether or not they are going to be an employee or an independent contractor. And as such, we’re seeking that these laws should not apply to the building and construction industry.
Laura: Right. That makes sense. But do you think this is the intention of the law or do you think these tradies are collateral damage?
Denita: Well there’s always been confusion about what the policy actually is. There has been a reference to gig-workers when this policy of ’employee-like’ was discussed. But we have asked for nearly two years now to clarify is that limited to gig-workers or will it cover building and construction. We’ve never got a straight answer from the Government and as such this has then been established by the discussion paper that it will apply much more broadly than just gig-workers. It can apply to any independent contractor. And as such, we say, that if the Government do not intend it to be building and construction, then they should specifically say that. Otherwise, we will interpret it the way we are interpreting it and that any independent contractor will be covered if they are deemed ’employee-like’.
Laura: Okay, so what’s happened in consultations? Are you concerned about what has been said in an unofficial way? What can you tell us about the conversations that you’ve had?
Denita: Well, up until three weeks ago we had no understanding about the extent of this laws. We continue to ask for it to be clarified and the Government advised that they would not give us any details. They would not rule out building and construction. And it’s only until the discussion paper was released three weeks ago that it was clear to us that it would be much broader than the purported gig-workers. And as such, we’ve read it as that. We continue to say that we need to debate the why do we need these laws. But the Government has said they will not debate the why, they will simply debate the how. And as such, we’re saying that is unacceptable because we don’t understand why we are included in this and why other industries that are included that should not be.
Laura: Okay, so, give us an idea about what the material effect is if this includes tradies. What is that affect going to have on them individually but more broadly the industry?
Denita: Well we’ve got about 430,000 building and construction businesses around the country. Around 260,000 of those are independent contractors. A large number of the work predominantly for the same builder but would do some other side jobs as well and their preference is to work for a variety of different reasons as an independent contractor as opposed to an employee. It gives them that freedom of choice. It enables them to access tax benefits and so forth. They don’t want to be forced to be an employee. So we argue that the way in which the discussion paper is currently structured it may well find that many of those independent contractors – 260,000 of them – will be forced to become an employee despite the fact that they choose not to do so now. Certainly, there are issues around sham contracting and we believe that if there is concern about sham contracting look at those laws. Don’t push people into becoming employees when they don’t wish to do so.
Laura: Denita Wawn, thanks so much for your time.
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