Event: Interview with Stephen Cenatiempo, 2CC
Date: Wednesday, 1 November 2023, 6.20am AEDT
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations
Stephen Cenatiempo, host 2CC radio: The Master Builders Association is in the middle of a consulting period with tradies across the country about the new industrial relations reforms. They’re visiting 21 locations over an eight-week period. Today, they’re meeting with Canberra tradies. Denita Wawn is the chief executive of Master Builders Australia and joins us now. Denita, good morning.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning.
Stephen: What sort of concerns are local tradies telling you or what are they saying to you about these new IR reforms?
Denita: Yeah, we’ve just finished the session this morning just out here at MBA ACT. They’re concerned about a range of components. The restrictions on independent contracting, the concerns around specialist subcontractor restrictions, significant changes to casual employment, and the additional compliance and penalties. And ultimately, a massive amount of uncertainty with this Bill that means the cost of construction will have to go up if the Bill gets passed Parliament next year.
Stephen: The concern here is that, well, there’s a couple of concerns. The more cynical of us would say that the government is being driven by the union movement here to implement these laws but is it more a case of maybe industries getting caught up in a series of laws that the government might not have intended?
Denita: I think it’s a deliberate change to our industrial relations landscape. I’ve been in IR for 30-odd years, and I’ve never seen something as broad as this in terms of fundamental changes. It is because really the focus is the allegation that it’s around closing loopholes. It is really far more broader than that. It is basically saying anything other than permanent, full-time or part-time is to be discouraged and made extraordinarily difficult to achieve. We say that is fundamentally going to impact the industry in a way in which it’s going to drive up costs and reduce productivity. And certainly, from our perspective, if you look at it from a purely compliance point of view, it is an absolute nightmare of compliance and risk. So, it’s a huge issue, Stephen, one that we are informing our members. It’s 300 pages of legislation and 500 pages of explanatory memorandum. We have a duty to inform our members about what it really means.
Stephen: And are you concerned that particularly in your industry, this is going to have a greater impact on smaller businesses? I mean, the bigger businesses, the head contractors, can usually navigate their way through these things regardless of what the changes are, but it’s going to be the small contractors that are affected.
Denita: Absolutely. 99 per cent of our membership, our businesses in building and construction, are small to medium sized businesses. Only a few have got the capabilities of understanding the quagmire of any regulation, let alone around IR regulation. And around 440,000 businesses around the country in our industry, half of them are independent contractors. So half of our sector is independent contractors, will be impacted by the changes to independent contracting. This includes changes to the definition of employment and restrictions on the use of independent contracting. So, it’s a massive, massive change that people need to be aware of.
Stephen: Now I reckon I probably know the answer to this question before I ask it but I’ll ask it anyway. What level of consultation was there with your industry before these laws were drafted?
Denita: Well, we say minimal. There was a process of the government listening to concerns but I don’t think listening equates with consultation. There was limited two-way dialogue. We did call that out early on and unfortunately then we’re banned from some consultations as a consequence. But most of the employer groups are saying all the same thing. A lot of listening but no consultation and certainly no active listening. The big issue for us is that these are significant changes and when you look at it in comparison to the exemplar reform process of Julia Gillard in 2008, this is has been a significant difference. And I take my hat off to then Minister Gillard on the way she conducted the workplace relations reform consultation process and we certainly haven’t seen anything of the like this time round.
Stephen: Some would say situation normal. Denita, I appreciate your time this morning.
Denita: Pleasure as always. Thanks Stephen.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
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