Event: Shaun Schmitke interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW
Date: Monday, 5 June 2023, 8.30 am AEST
Speakers: Neil Mitchell, host 3AW; Shaun Schmitke, Acting CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations, ‘Same Job, Same Pay’
Neil Mitchell, host 3AW: It’s been launched today, a big campaign led by every major employer body. Eight of them including the Chamber of Commerce, Minerals Council, Small Business Council, Farmers, Master Builders, spending millions I’m told and the issue of ‘Same Job, Same Pay’, which is what the federal government has been promising to introduce legislation. It sounds alright in principle. Same job, same pay. Does it work if you’re a contractor or subcontractor? These businesses say it will undermine the whole system. They’re taking it that seriously. 13 36 93. On the line is Shaun Schmitke, acting chief executive of Master Builders Australia. Good morning.
Shaun Schmitke, Acting CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
Neil: I’m okay. Now what do you fear? We haven’t got the detail yet. What do you fear this will do?
Shaun: Well our big fear is that this will have negative impacts for building and construction and in particular the small mum and dad family businesses and self-employed industries that dominate our sector. They are rightly worried about what this policy means for them and the 1.2 million people they employ.
Neil: Okay. How? Let’s go through the detail. I run a small building company. I’m building houses, residential, and I subcontract work. What happens?
Shaun: Well, the Government’s policy is said to be aimed at labour hire but as it currently stands it’s much broader than that. What that will mean is that it will capture all of those independent tradies and small businesses in our sector and effectively force them into a policy that will require them to pay the same pay to everybody regardless of their skills, experience, their qualification and things like that. It means things like recognising reward for experience or encouraging opportunity will be a thing of the past. Everybody gets paid the same regardless of their skill and experience.
Neil: So if I’m employing two chippies, two carpenters on a job, subcontractors and one’s got 30 years’ experience and can hammer nails standing on his head and the other one has only been there five minutes and goes looking checkerboard-coloured paint. Are they paid the same?
Shaun: That’s exactly what it means and the problem with that is that it effectively will drive down wages in the long term. I mean why would any employer, why would any head contractor employ a skilled, experienced person and want to pay them more when they know that potentially they could be captured by this policy which requires them to pay somebody brand new to the industry. It simply makes no sense and it undermines the basis of our entire workplace system which is all about minimum safety net, letting people get ahead. That’s the exact opposite of what this policy will do.
Neil: I’ll just play what Jim Chalmers, federal Treasurer had to say about this today when asked about your campaign. “This isn’t about stopping businesses rewarding experience, it’s about making sure that workers are eligible for the pay and conditions that the employers have agreed with their workforces. It’s about closing loopholes.” Is he wrong?
Shaun: Yep. Absolutely wrong. This is not about closing loopholes at all. This is about fundamentally undermining the way that building work is performed and undermining really the entire way the industry operates.
Neil: If it goes ahead and it’s as bad as you say, what happens to the industry?
Shaun: Well it simply means that it will discourage people from starting their own business and being their own boss. It will make employers think twice about giving people pay rises. It will hurt productivity and drive up the cost of construction. All of these things will be bad for our industry but also bad for all of the projects that the community is crying out to get finished and bad for our capacity to meet Australia’s future housing needs.
Neil: You mean the slowdown of the industry?
Shaun: Absolutely a slowdown in the industry. This will be basically tying the hands of the industry as they come to grapple with this policy and it will certainly discourage productivity and discourage people working harder and getting rewarded for that extra effort.
Neil: But is it fair to say that we haven’t got all the detail yet? Maybe this is an unintended consequence they can get around?
Shaun: Well, look, maybe this is some sort of unintended consequence that it’s going to capture building and construction. But if it is an unintended consequence then the government just simply needs to rule out that it would have any adverse impact on building and construction. We’ve been raising these concerns for over 12 months. We haven’t got that assurance. The devil will always be in the detail. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the sector. So if that’s the government’s intention, they can tell us today.
Neil: How long does your campaign run?
Shaun: Look, basically until such time that we get the outcome that we need. But look, we’ll be going fairly hard over the next few weeks in order to make the community aware that this policy is not what it sounds like it’s about. It’s actually much more bigger than that.
Neil: I’m told you’ve got a multi-million dollar budget. Is that right?
Shaun: Oh look, the campaign is being coordinated through the Minerals Council. However, I understand that they’ve got quite a significant amount of funding from a range of business.
Neil: Okay. Thank you very much. Shaun Schmitke, the acting chief executive of Master Builders.
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