Monday, 21 May 2018
Fair Work Amendment (Making Australia More Equal) Bill 2018; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
Whether we like it or not, technology is fundamentally reshaping the nature of work. Our fingertips have never been so powerful. It's never been easier to get food delivered to your door and to find people on the internet to do the jobs that people don't have the time, the patience or the expertise to do.
And the combination of technology and neo-liberalism, or trickle-down economics, is extraordinarily powerful because, left unregulated, technological advancements can enhance and intensify the worst aspects of a market economy.
If we don't change the rules, if we don't update them, every advancement made in the name of convenience could be a setback for decent pay and conditions for those who help make our lives more convenient.
Because this technology that is enabling the new economy has no regard for minimum standards and practices, without new laws we may end up with 21st-century technology but 19th-century work practices. A fundamental Greens principle is that all workers are entitled to have a fair and equitable industrial relations system and receive fair and equitable remuneration for their work. It's not our job in here to hold back technological advancements but it is our job to make sure that society keeps up and that the new economy doesn't come at the cost of being able to live a good life, of which decent wages and conditions are a core part.
That's why today I'm introducing the Fair Work Amendment (Making Australia More Equal) Bill 2018, a bill that will give the Fair Work Commission the power to extend provisions of the Fair Work Act, or awards or enterprise agreements, to gig economy workers and others in non-standard forms of work.
Currently, many workers in the gig economy or non-standard work are engaged as independent contractors, which means they're not given the rights of employees under the Fair Work Act 2009. Workers may also be engaged through intermediary companies or agencies, meaning they are not treated as employees of the corporation they're effectively working for. This gives corporations the power to avoid extending certain rights to workers, including, but not limited to, paying minimum wages, leave entitlements and superannuation as well as protection from laws governing unfair dismissal.
This bill will change the law to introduce a presumption that all workers, however classified, are entitled to at least the same minimum standards as employees. And the Fair Work Commission will be able to issue a minimum entitlements order, which will apply sections of the Fair Work Act or modern award or applicable enterprise agreements to those workers as if they were employees.
A minimum entitlements order under this bill would have the effect of extending minimum pay and conditions to workers, rights which otherwise may not be afforded to them due to the way they have been labelled by the corporation in question. This could apply to workers such as Uber drivers, for example, and will deter corporations from using legal devices such as independent contract arrangements as a way of avoiding minimum pay and condition obligations. Corporations would still be free to use whatever legal arrangement they wish, but they would not be able to use it to undercut the legal minimum that applies to employees. That is why the bill is called the Making Australia More Equal Bill—because we will be saying there will be an equal floor that applies across all workers and that you would not be able to use clever lawyers, or different ways of labelling people, as a way of paying someone less than if they were engaged as an employee. You can still have whatever arrangement you like, but there is now a legal minimum that stops you using cuts to wages and conditions as a way of making profits. Because the truth is, after three decades of Labor and Liberal neo-liberalism, life is getting worse and more insecure for many people in this country. Wage growth is stagnating while company profits are increasing. Penalty rates have been cut, inequality is at a record high, underemployment is rife in the economy, and casualisation is up. Wage theft is commonplace. And while union and union officials are under attack, big corporations are jockeying for billions of dollars in tax cuts.
This year it was reported that some bicycle deliverers for Uber Eats, Foodora and Deliveroo, who are calling for better conditions and government regulation, are paid as little as $6 an hour—and sometimes it looks like even less than $6 an hour. Thanks to Anna Patty at Fairfax, you can read about people like Matthew, a counselling and psychotherapy student and food delivery driver, who calls the days when he made $14 and hour and $5 for each delivery the 'golden days' because now Matthew is working 25 per cent more for 33 per cent less pay. Anna Patty wrote:
Now riders get as little as $7 a delivery, without any additional hourly payment. And some can wait up to two hours between delivery jobs.
These guys are making $14, $7 or zero dollars per hour.
No delivery for two hours? Zero dollars an hour in Australia? That is not a sentence that we should have to utter. It's not just Matthew.
The Transport Workers' Union conducted a survey of food delivery riders and found that three in four were paid below the minimum wage. The survey found riders were underpaid; had been injured on the job without insurance, cover or sick pay; and one had worked more than 40 hours a week. And that's not all. On 17 May, four days ago, Anna Patty from Fairfax again reported that Deliveroo was offering $18 million worth of shares to its 2,000 permanent employees globally so that all its employees have skin in the game. The Australian manager said this was exciting for new people coming into the business. But this does not apply to the food delivery drivers because they are not classed as employees. As the manager repeated, those drivers are able to choose themselves when and how they work and, apparently, they value their flexibility. So under the current rules, people like Matthew work 25 per cent more for 33 per cent less pay, Deliveroo's senior executives get a nice little injection into their share portfolio, but we're led to believe that these people, who are crying out for more secure arrangements and decent pay, apparently want it that way—rubbish!
All of us enjoy the convenience of the new economy but we would hope, when someone delivers food to our door from our favourite restaurant, that the person doing the delivering is getting paid properly and that's what this bill will do; it will allow that to happen. I don't think anyone would quibble with that. But at the moment, because Deliveroo riders are independent contractors with an ABN and, similarly, Uber recently argued successfully to the Fair Work Commission that its drivers are not employees but independent contractors, we are left with a gap in the law. In his ruling on the issue in the Fair Work Commission, Val Gostencnikin the Australian Financial Review said:
Perhaps the law of employment will evolve to catch pace with the evolving nature of the digital economy.
Perhaps the legislature will develop laws to refine traditional notions of employment or broaden protection to participants in the digital economy.
That's exactly what this bill attempts to do; it attempts to provide for that update so that all the people that we see riding around on bikes or motorbikes or cars with big companies' logos on their side can get the minimum wages and conditions that we would all think are fair minimum wages and conditions. We're not even talking in this bill about lifting minimum wages and conditions, even though we desperately need to do that. We're just saying: give the Fair Work Commission the power to extend on a case-by-case basis the minimum protections that apply to employees to all of these other kinds of workers across the board.
I say to everyone who at the moment is in the gig economy, who is busting their gut for no money and no conditions, the legislation to give you minimum wages and entitlements is now sitting before this parliament. The words that will broaden protection for workers in the gig economy are on this piece of paper, in this bill. And the only thing that needs to happen now is for people—on all sides of parliament—to put aside politics and to vote for this important, timely bill.
I would hope it gets the support from members of the government, because they hear from small businesses who say that, because they don't have the resources to enter into clever arrangements, they're getting undercut by the big corporations who use these devices. And I hope it gets support from the opposition, because they have said people need to be looked after and their rights at work protected. So there's no reason that this bill could not proceed through this parliament now.
And, every day, things are becoming more urgent. The gap between the very well off and everyone else is growing, and one of the biggest gaps in this country, the biggest divisions, is between the secure and the insecure. This bill will go a long way to making people's life more secure and to relieving their anxiety. I commend this bill to the House.