Date: Friday, 10 November 2023
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Closing Loopholes Bill, independent contracting
Matthew Pantelis, FiveAA Adelaide: Yesterday in Adelaide, Master Builders Australia nationally were in Adelaide meeting with tradespeople and others with concerns about the government’s Closing Loopholes in industrial relations legislation which is potentially facing a hard time in the senate anyway because there is a couple of key independent MPs in there – David Pocock and Jacquie Lambie. Who are looking to split the bill, which the government doesn’t want to do it. So it compasses all sorts of changes, casualisation of the workforce, a range of things that has businesses concerned about costs and the fact that they may have to make all these changes at a time when there aren’t enough to find workers to come and join them in their profession. So lets talk about this with Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia. Denita, good morning.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning.
Matthew: So you met with people here yesterday, what was the outcome?
Denita: Well, I think there was a lot of shaking of heads and bewilderment about what the federal government is doing on industrial relations at a time when our industry is under a lot of pressure as you say. And we’re looking to improve productivity as we try and meet the housing crisis targets. This just will put a hand brake on our capacity to do this. So a lot of shaking heads, a lot of anxiety about the significant changes that will dramatically hit the industry.
Matthew: So, those changes, talk us through some of those, what are people concerned about?
Denita: Well, I think, the really big one that is concerning people the most is flying a little bit under the radar from a public perception point of view, and that is the significant change to independent contractors. There’s about 1.2 million people that operate as independent contractors as either sole traders or have an ABN but no employees. And about 260 odd thousand of those are in the building and construction industry. These are generally people who have made the decision to be their own boss, to determine their own working hours. But the way in which the government has changed the definition of employment, restricts the capacity of independent contractors and force them to be employees. That is something that they just don’t want and so a lot of people there are independent contractors or engage independent contractors so couldn’t understand it. And it means that everyone loses out a consequence of that enforcement into a employment relationship that they just don’t want to do.
Matthew: Obviously you represent builders, tradies, etc but doesn’t just encompass your sector does it ultimately, I mean contractors are everywhere!
Denita: Contractors are everywhere, regardless of what industry they’re in, independent contracting has been part of the engagement process in our economy for hundreds of years. It’s a way in which people can have some better control over their own destiny, particularly when they’re working in areas of high demand. It means that they can dictate, you know, for example, if you want to take two days off, then you can take two days off and go away with your family and so forth. You’re not tied to an employment relationship and when you do have people that have that level of control, then they want to retain it. But equally, the new employment definition means that if you’re on a building site and a builder quite rightly has to ensure that you’re doing the right thing in terms of safety and when you can come onto the site, then the likelihood is that they will come under this new definition of employment, meaning that their independent contractor status will be deemed a sham and they will be forced into employment. That’s just something that they find bewildering and don’t understand why the government has gone down this path.
Matthew: So, Denita, the bill is going to come down to a couple of senators in Canberra to pass this, David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie. The lobbying, I imagine, is continuing. What are you telling them?
Denita: Well we’re telling them that this bill is such a quagmire of substantial change and it’s simply not reflective of the economy we need at the moment. That they’ve got to set it aside and we commend both senators, Lambie and Pocock. They’ve done the right thing of putting some separate bills to get them non-contentious legislation up. They got passed in the Senate yesterday, the ball is now in the government’s court about what they’re going to do about splitting the bill. I don’t think they will. The lobbying at the moment is fierce, but I think the real important message that we’ve said to people yesterday is IR as we know it is complex, but this will have a significant change in your business and every politician regardless of what party they come from, need to be aware that if you’ve got concerns about this, let them know because this is a significant change and we need to ensure that all voices around the country are being heard.
Matthew: The government would be doing this in the belief that this would create employment, long-term, that it would make the industrial system more manageable and easier to negotiate. You seem to be saying that’s absolutely the opposite is going to happen.
Denita: That’s right, we say that these types of structures are there for a reason. It’s about flexibility. The government and particularly the unions have been pushing for an awful long time, decades, that they disagree with the notion of casual employment of independent contracting, and that everyone really should be either a full time or part-time permanent employee and that’s what’s good for them. Well, at 1.2 million independent contractors in this country disagree with that notion and they are of the view that they want to stick around. Sure there might be some of those that have been forced into independent contracting, but we have sham contracting available in our laws already. So we say that this is going to cost productivity, going to cost money, and it’s going to force people into work in conditions they they simply do not want to have. So it’s a over reach. It’s not closing the loophole, but it’s actually going to constrain the entire economy at a time that we can least afford it.
Matthew: Denita Wawn, appreciate your time today.
Denita: Pleasure as always, thanks Matt.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
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