Event: Shaun Schmitke interview with Steve Price, Sky News
Date: Monday, 5 June 2023, 7.00 pm AEST
Speakers: Steve Price, host Sky News; Shaun Schmitke, Acting CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: industrial relations, ‘Same Job, Same Pay’
Steve Price, host Sky News: Shaun Schmitke is the acting CEO of Master Builders Australia. Joins us on the line. This is a big campaign. Has it hit the mark, do you think?
Shaun Schmitke, Acting CEO Master Builders Australia: Well, Steve I think it has. You only have to look at some of the reaction that’s come from the government today which has once again in fact responded to the fact that business has concerns but in doing so has shifted the goalposts even further. And in fact, in many ways, haven’t relayed our concerns at all, and, in fact, it’s made it worse.
Steve: Shaun, they’re well-produced ads. I think they hit the mark. That one we just showed there with the workers in the nursery. You know, it makes sense. Someone who’s worked there for 16 years knows what they’re talking about. The person who just joined, who may be very competent, doesn’t. So, you must have known for some time that this was going to be a clash between you and the federal government. Is the aim here to get the change stopped or is the aim here to embarrass the government into not doing it? What exactly are you trying to achieve?
Shaun: Well the aim here is two-fold. I mean, firstly it’s to try and get the government to stop these changes and have a fundamental rethink about what it is that they are intending to do and the consequences of those policies. The second is to make sure people are really aware what this policy actually means for them and how it’s going to affect everyday workers and everyday workplaces. There’s lots of rhetoric floating around about ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ but really the detail of this policy is where the rubber hits the road. We want people to understand exactly what it’s going to mean for them and their workers.
Steve: Tony Burke defended it today. We’ll get onto that in a moment, Shaun. But what’s the government’s… why do they want to do this? I mean, I know, I get the union backing of it and labour hire firms and all of that. But what is the federal government attempting to achieve here for the taxpayers and workers of Australia?
Shaun: Well that is a very good question and look at the risk of taking you on a bit of an industrial relations magical mystery tour, I just want to step back a little bit here. When the government got elected they said that this ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ policy was all about labour hire and they said it would only apply to labour hire workers and only in circumstances where it was used to undercut pay and conditions or used as some sort of backdoor way to drive down wages. Now, we’re not aware of where that occurs. It certainly doesn’t happen in building and construction. But then the government came out with a consultation paper and that consultation paper effectively said well it’s not just labour hire. In fact, it made it very clear that it could apply to a broader range of arrangements including subcontractors and independent contractors which, as you know, are a fairly fundamental part of how the building and construction industry operates. We don’t use subcontracting because we’re trying to drive down wages or avoid employing people. We use subcontracting simply because that’s the way that building work is performed. And then today, we’ve heard the Minister talk about, well actually this isn’t about subcontracting, it’s about workplaces where they have enterprise agreements in place. Now, less than 12 months ago the government passed major industrial relations reform which it said was to encourage more workplaces to get into enterprise bargaining. Well if the Minister’s comments today are correct, that’s going to be a complete disincentive to any workplace that wants to bargain for better wages and conditions. In those circumstances, you have to go back to fundamental principles. In fact, as a result of today, I’ve gone back and looked at Labor’s secure jobs policy that they released in May last year and it says very clearly a Labor government will uphold the principle that if you work the same job, you should get the same pay’. That’s all we’ve really got to go on and if that’s the case it’s going to be disastrous for all industries, all workers and all workplaces.
Steve: Well, you’re representing the building industry so let’s just pretend for a moment that I’m about to sign a contract to construct an office complex somewhere in Australia and I’m trying to hire a workforce. I look at this and I say to myself well the people who are going to suffer if this happens is a worker who’s not got as much experience is presumably not going to be hired. Because if I’m the boss and I have to pay that worker the same as what I’m paying someone who’s been on the tools for 20 years, is highly regarded in the industry in that particular field. Why would I hire someone who’s not as qualified as that and pay them? So that person is not going to get a job right?
Shaun: You’re dead right. The other consequence is that those workers who do have excellent skills, lots of experience, lots of familiarity with particular types of work, or has a long-standing relationship with their employer they’re going to be much less likely to get a pay rise from their boss simply because their boss might be concerns about the application of this policy and what it might mean for them. So it’s an attack on both ends. It’s an attack on experienced workers, it’s an attack on workers’ rights to say I’m worth more than the guy next to me or the girl next to me, I deserve to be paid more. It’s going to stop that and at the same time, it’s going to make it harder for young people coming into the industry. Building and construction is already an industry where we have very, very well-paid jobs. You’ve got one of the highest rates of full-time employment of any industry sector in the country. One of our biggest problems aside from the tight labour market is the future skills needs for our industry. We’re going to need at least 400,000 more people in our industry over the next five years. And a policy like this is simply going to make it harder to fill those needs and of course, all of this combines to drive up the cost of construction, introduce uncertainty into the building and construction industry which couldn’t come at a worse possible time.
Steve: I don’t want to be overly alarmist but I mean just going onto the worksite for a start and think about the problems that it would cause in the tea room with people having arguments about why am I being paid a certain amount of money and you’re getting the same amount and I’ve got ten years’ more experience than you. That doesn’t make for a very jovial workplace does it?
Shaun: No, exactly right. And I mean, look, at the end of the day workplace laws in Australia have always fundamentally been about creating the minimum safety net of terms and conditions but then allowing people the freedom to negotiate up to have arrangements that suit particular employment relationships and to get paid and recognised for the work that they’re doing and the experience that they have. Really, the laws are all about allowing people to get up and have a go and have a fair crack and to basically put in a hard day’s work and be rewarded for your effort. This policy is completely inconsistent with all of those long-held concepts that underpin our workplace relations system. I mean there’s a real concern not only in terms of the impact on general workforce needs but a real attack here on basic Australian values. I mean, this is a pretty un-Australian approach and really does go to undermine a lot of the things I think most Australian workers hold dear.
Steve: Un-Australian is a good way to put it. Shaun, just finally let’s go to the Tony Burke. He was asked today about these potential changes. He said ‘the Government’s conversation is about closing loopholes and the business conversation today has been plain ‘loopy’.’ ACTU boss Sally McManus said the campaign is crazy and bizarre. Can I get your reaction to those two quotes?
Shaun: Well, if standing up for small business, standing up for fairness in workplaces, and standing up for subbies and independent tradies in the building and construction industry is loopy, guilty as charged.
Steve: Shaun Schmitke, thank you very much for talking to us. Appreciate your time.
Shaun: Thanks so much.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
0400 493 071 | firstname.lastname@example.org