10 February 2021


SUBJECTS: Secure jobs; Fair pay; Gig economy

MELINDA JAMES, HOST: Stephen Jones, good morning. 

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, good to be with you Mel.

JAMES: Look we've seen the Omnibus Bill from the Coalition, seeking a sort of simplification of some of these things. Penalties for companies and businesses that don't pay their employees, their casual employees, adequately. They're looking for some streamlining. You seem to be looking at imposing more definitions for different types of employees. Is this going to be an election fought on industrial relations grounds? 

JONES: Well, unfortunately it is for two reasons. One the Government, it seems intent on introducing new laws, which will make work less secure and run the risk of having wages cut. And at a time when everyone from the welfare organisations to big business to the Reserve Bank Governor is saying we need wages to go up, why on earth the government is introducing laws, which will drive wages down, we don't know. In Anthony’s speech in Brisbane today, the first instalment of our workplace policy will be unveiled. He'll be talking about the importance of secure work, which is important in the workplace, but it's also important in the household so that they will get access to credit. So that people can plan their finances. So that people can get a home loan. So people can keep a car on the road. Everything ties back to having a good paying, secure job. Unfortunately, we're seeing one in four Australians today, whether they're gig workers, casuals, long-term casuals or Labour hire workers, don't have access to the benefits that come with secure work. We want to do something about it.

JAMES: So the government's Omnibus Bill looks at defining casual work as where there is no firm advanced commitment to continuing and indefinite work, and they're also saying that casual employees would have the right to ask for full time or part time work if they have been employed for 12 months. Why are you saying that's not enough in terms of how to define what it means to be a casual and what kind of rights would be afforded to casuals after a period of time?

JONES: Look it’s as weak as water. It essentially says that a business can define what a casual employer is. If a business says you're a casual, then you're a casual. And that's not good enough. So that's the first problem with it. But the second problem with it is it completely ignores all of those other forms of insecure work, whether it's Labour hire work, and we're seeing more and more today you can have a Labour hire worker working alongside a permanently employed person, doing exactly the same job getting different wages and conditions. That's just not fair. And you've got the gig economy. It's absolutely gone from nowhere to being prevalent everywhere throughout our economy. No rights, dangerous work, treated like contractors and individual businesses when effectively they’re employees with no rights. That needs to be regulated properly. We've had three Uber-style and gig economy workers die on their bikes on Australian roads doing their job in the last week alone, another one overnight. That's because they've got no rights and no protections. We want to do something about it. 

JAMES: So how would that look, protecting gig economy workers? What would you do to protect them and give them more secure employment, given the very nature of it is just being paid per task?

JONES: At the moment they operate completely outside the realm of our existing workplace laws. We want to provide the Fair Work Commission, which is the body set up in this country to put in place awards and to regulate the rights and conditions of ordinary employees, we want to extend their powers to ensure they can do the same things and create minimum terms and conditions and minimum rights for gig economy workers so they have a basic set of minimum conditions that they don't have today.

JAMES: There will of course be a lot of reaction to the Opposition Leader’s speech today, particularly from business who could argue that given we are emerging from what have been very difficult economic times, although the figures remain strong there is still a long way to go before the Australian economy has recovered completely, that this would put more of an impost on business and not allow them the flexibility they may need as they try to recover. They would have a point, wouldn't they?

JONES: We’ll separate out those businesses that are genuinely doing the right things, and you know, I worked as a casual worker for years as I was putting myself through university and then even after that. So there are genuine needs for casual employees. But if you've been working three or four or five years in a job with a permanent roster and doing the same hours week in week out, chances are you're not a casual. You're a permanent employee and you're just being denied the rights of permanent employment. If you're a labour hire who’s been working in the same job, doing the same work as a permanent employee, but getting 20% less pay, chances are then there's something wrong with those sorts of arrangements. And can I deal with gig economy workers? The businesses that they work for are some of the most profitable and biggest businesses not only in Australia but in the world. And I don't think there'll be a lot of tears shed for ensuring that a person who gets on a bike or turns up to work to do one of these gig economy jobs gets to come home safe and sound and get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. I think most Australians would say yeah, that's fair dinkum and that's right. And that's what we want to see happen. Too many people going to work and dying in insecure work and not getting the rights that they're entitled to. 

JAMES: Well people will see and hear more details of this today. And then I'm sure it will be a subject of discussion for months to come but Stephen Jones. Thanks for your time this morning good to be with you.