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Interview with Meecham Philott, ABC Radio Tropical North


Event: Denita Wawn interview with Meecham Philpott, ABC Radio Tropical North
Date: Monday, 22 May 2023, 7.50am AEST
Speakers: Meecham Philpott, host ABC Tropical North; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations, building and construction, ‘employee-like’

Meecham Philpott, host ABC Radio Tropical North: Now we know in the Tropical North, building is a major industry for us. Major industry and according to the Master Builders Australia the freedom of choice for tradies to be their own boss is under threat with the Federal Government proposing to force independent contractors to give up their business to become an employee. The CEO of Master Builders Australia is Denita Wawn. Denita, welcome to the program as always.

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning. Thank you.

Meecham: This is a really big deal. I mean this caught my eye, the press release coming out early this morning. Why haven’t we really heard about this in civvy street?

Denita: Well it’s been a matter that has been purportedly only for gig-workers but when you read the discussion paper that the government has released on three weeks ago it is very evident that our fears were recognised in that it’s not for gig-workers but for anyone working as an independent contractor. They could be deemed employee-like and we know so, so many of those working in our industry want to be independent contractors. They want to be their own boss and in many instances, they could well come under these proposed laws. So we’re calling it out and saying to the Government that if you think it should only be for gig-workers then you’ve got to narrow the scope which is currently not the case.

Meecham: Okay. Define a gig-worker for me?

Denita: Well, that’s the $100 million questions.

Meecham: That’s the problem.

Denita: What is a gig-worker? And we know that theoretically virtually everything these days can be organised through the internet and your apps and all those sorts of things including tradies. We would argue that there are no doubt that there are some people that are treated poorly in what we call ‘sham contracting’. If the sham-contracting laws that currently exist aren’t working then we are open to discussions around making it easier for people that are forced into having an ABN and don’t want to then we have to look at those laws. But this goes much, much further. This actually says if anyone is looking as though they are an employee, even though they have determined that they want to be their own boss then they can be forced into it. And we say that’s unacceptable.

Meecham: Okay. I guess that’s where it gets a bit tricky isn’t it? Because I can think of a handful of builders just here locally that have got the same sparkies, they’ve got the same plumbers but, you know, they’re definitely subbies there’s no doubt about it. But on paper, you could see how they look a bit like employees.

Denita: That’s right. So many of our trades work hand in hand with the builders that they like working for. And that’s right, if you look at the building sites of that builder, those people could be deemed employees and as such be forced into this system of being forced into it as an employee rather than their own boss. And we say that’s wrong. We know the reasons why those sparkies, those plumbers, those carpenters have chosen an ABN and run their own business. And to have them forced into an ’employee-like’ situation we say is wrong. It totally undermines the whole premise on how we structure the building and construction industry. And as I said if there are those people who are badly done by in terms of being forced into being an ABN then let’s look at the sham contracting laws. We shouldn’t be forcing people that have chosen to do so into a situation where they are an employee.

Meecham: Is the Government going down this line because, and it’s been in the headlines for about a year or so now, and that is a lot of subcontractors, a lot of subbies just not getting paid? Is that what this is all about?

Denita: No, this is more about the issue around that there is a perception rightly or wrongly that people shouldn’t be working as an independent contractor. It’s very much established in the unions roots that people should be employees. And as I said, there’s no doubt that there is concerns about people like delivery drivers and Uber drivers that could be deemed employees. But we need to have a proper conversation. We are frustrated that the Government is not willing to have a proper conversation. They are saying they will not debate the why they are doing this, they will only debate the how. But we argue that there is no why here. There is no evidence to show that we need to dramatically change the way in which our independent contracting laws are structured in this country.

Meecham: How many subbies are we talking about?

Denita: We’re talking around about 260,000-odd independent contractors around the country. There are about 430,000 businesses in the building and construction industry which 260,000-odd thousand are independent contractors. So, we’re talking a large number of people in the industry that would dramatically change how they do business as we speak.

Meecham: I’ve got a couple of mates who are builder builders. My understanding having a conversation with them is they can’t. They wouldn’t be able to afford, they’d love to, but they wouldn’t be able to afford business-model-wise to make all the sparkies, all the chippies, and the roofies as employees. It just doesn’t work like that in the building game.

Denita: No it doesn’t. We have peaks and troughs in this game. We don’t know when it’s going to happen. At the moment, and I know up in your area there’s heaps and heaps of work and we’re all looking for tradies. But the next thing we know and the forecasts are saying that things aren’t going to look so busy next year. And a builder simply cannot afford to keep someone on full-time and as such it’s not in their interest. But equally, these tradies they like being their own bosses. They like being able to work for the local builder but also do some side jobs as well. Determining their own holidays and those sorts of things. So, you know, at the moment it’s a win-win situation and we don’t want those guys being forced into an arrangement that they don’t agree with. But the way in which the discussion paper is structured, they would in fact be forced into being an employee whether they like it or not.

Meecham: Okay. So, what are you advocating for? Get onto your local MP? What’s the go?

Denita: Yeah look absolutely. Get onto anyone in the government. Master Builders has got a website available where you can go in and if you want to write and express your frustrations you can do so on our website. But equally, just ring up your local MP or your local Senator if they are from the ALP and just say this is not good enough. Rule out the building and construction industry from these proposed laws.

Meecham: Okay. Denita, look, always a pleasure to have you on the program. Thanks for your time this morning.

Denita: Pleasure. Lovely as always. Cheers.

Meecham: CEO of Master Builders Australia, Denita Wawn. So industrial relations changes risk bulldozing tradies according to Master Builders. What about that? Geez that would be a massive change, particularly where we live.

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

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