Monday, 22 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Workplace Relations: Food Delivery Industry
My question is to the Prime Minister. Last week the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are not independent contractors. Why won't the Australian government extend the role of the Fair Work Commission so that it can set minimum standards and entitlements for gig workers in Australia?
The changes we are making to our industrial relations laws in this country have one specific purpose, and that is to ensure that Australians can get more work—they can get back into work, they can access more hours and as a result can earn more and can get into jobs that are covered by enterprise agreements, which are covered by higher wages. That is what we are seeking to do. I'll ask the industrial relations minister to add further to the answer.
Of course, the United Kingdom decision is something that we have read closely. One thing the Leader of the Opposition is likely to be aware of is that the term 'worker' is a UK specific legal classification, so the bearing of that decision to workplace law in Australia is of minimal effect and does not compare well. The broader situation that the Leader of the Opposition is talking about is with respect to contract workers. Independent contractors have been consistently about eight to nine per cent of the Australian economy over the last 10 years and independent contractors are an enormously large range of workers, from creatives to those in the gig economy and transport, particularly in the trucking industry.
And, yes, of course delivery drivers with online platforms. The opposition suggest that, with respect to that eight to nine per cent of the economy, the independent contractors, it is completely desirable across the board or a very simple thing to have one body—and in this case they have nominated the Fair Work Commission—determine how those independent contractors would be remunerated. Of course, independent contractors at the moment are remunerated according to their independent contract.
People in this House might remember the last time that the Labor Party decided it would be a very simple thing to determine what the remuneration of independent contractors would be. That was under the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Members might recall how that worked out—very, very poorly. We did abolish it, and the reason we abolished it is it wasn't working; it was costing the economy an enormous amount of money—$2.3 billion! Luke Sheridan was quoted at the time; he was a 44-year-old owner driver who operated on the east coast. He said the tribunal had made it more difficult to conduct business, and warned the new mandatory pay regime would prevent him from giving accurate—
The question went to Uber drivers. It went to minimum wage rates, which truck drivers do get. It went to those people who are currently working for bugger all and risking their lives every day. Five of them lost their lives last year. Maybe the minister can give a serious answer.
Mr Falinski interjecting—
The Leader of the Opposition's question went to and used the precise words 'independent contractors'. What Labor wants to pretend in this House is that it is somehow a matter of some simplicity or ease or wisdom to go across and make a decision to set remuneration standards for the eight to nine per cent of the economy that are independent contractors. (Time expired)