Gig economy workers would be entitled to minimum pay and conditions and “job security” legislated as a key objective of the Fair Work Act, under Labor’s new industrial relations policy that promises an Accord-inspired “compact” with employers and unions.
Ensuring workplace relations will be a major policy battleground at the next election, Anthony Albanese on Wednesday will unveil significant policy proposals that would effectively widen the definition of “employee”, bolster the powers of the Fair Work Commission, create a new casual worker test, and allow “insecure” workers to carry leave entitlements into new jobs.
Declaring Labor would not only oppose the Coalition’s industrial relations changes but offer workers a “better deal”, Mr Albanese will promise to guarantee that labour hire workers doing the same job as direct employees are entitled to the same pay, while also limiting the number of consecutive fixed-term contracts an employer can offer a worker for the same job.
“The next federal election will not be a referendum on the coronavirus pandemic, it will be a contest between two very different visions for the future of Australia,” Mr Albanese said.
“A battle for the things which matter most to the Labor Party I lead, and to millions of Australians. Jobs. Good, secure jobs.”
Citing the “prime examples” of the Hawke and Keating governments, Mr Albanese said “the best governments in our history have understood the need for a compact between capital and labour to advance their mutual interests”.
“A government I lead will always respect the central importance of successful businesses as job creators,” he said.
“Governments create the environment that enables business to prosper and create new jobs.
“This requires a partnership between government, business and unions.”
By legislating “job security” as a key objective of the Fair Work Act, he said the commission would be required to bring a sharp focus to job security when making decisions.
“We will legislate to ensure more Australian workers have access to employee protections and entitlements currently denied to them by the narrow, outdated definition of an ‘employee’,” he said.
“We will do this by extending the powers of the Fair Work Commission to include employee-like forms of work, allowing the commission to make orders for minimum standards in new forms of work.
“The most obvious example of what we are talking about here is of course the ‘gig’ or ‘on demand’ economy.” He said gig economy workers were being denied basic rights such as award benefits, superannuation, the right to collectively bargain and access to unfair dismissal protections.
Promising to restore the commission to the “centre” of the workplace relations system, he said “Labor will ensure that the independent umpire has the capacity to inquire into all forms of work and determine what rights and obligations should apply”.
He recommitted Labor to abolishing the “discredited and politicised” Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
He said during the “darkest days of the pandemic, one of the most confronting revelations was how many workers — casuals, contractors, gig workers — had no rights at all to paid sick leave”.
Labor would work with state and territory governments, unions and industry to develop portable entitlements for annual leave, sick leave and long service leave for Australians in insecure work. “The economy is evolving. Workplace laws must evolve with it,” he said.
While there were Australians who preferred the option of casual work, the problem arose “when the definition of casual is used and abused to deprive people of pay, leave entitlements or job security”.
“Under a Labor government that I lead, we will legislate to create a fair test to determine when a worker can be classified as a casual,” he said.
Workers employed through labour hire companies should receive at least the same pay as workers employed directly.
“There is a very simple principle to apply here: if you work the same job, you should get the same pay. A Labor government will write that principle into law,” he said.
Labor would also legislate for fixed-term contract limits for the same role of 24 months, or no more than two consecutive contracts, whatever came first.
“Once that limit is reached, the employer will be required to offer a permanent position, either part time or full time,” he said.
He said the policy initiatives spoke to more than a “century of Labor values, and my own lifetime as an advocate for working people”.
“The current government has failed to deliver on its responsibility to ensure that workplace laws have evolved at the same pace as changes in patterns of commerce,” he said.
“These laws can be adjusted in ways that benefit both employers and employees.”