But Labor said Mr Porter fundamentally misunderstood its proposal and his claim was “loopy”.
At the same time, the building sector said another promise by Anthony Albanese – to abolish the construction industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission – had nothing to do with insecure work and would allow a return to thuggery on work sites, hampering the economic recovery.
“Just as governments around the country are putting construction front and centre of their economic recovery plans, Labor is planning to take the leash off construction union thugs and bullies,” said Master Builders of Australia chief executive Denita Wawn.
With the backing of the ACTU, Mr Albanese sought to put industrial relations front and centre in the political debate on Wednesday by unveiling eight policy promises designed to combat the extent of job insecurity, which Labor says has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Proposals include giving gig economy workers such as Uber delivery riders a minimum wage and conditions, granting wage parity to labour hire employees, limiting the use of fixed-term contracts, legislating a “fair test” to define a casual worker, and using the public sector’s procurement powers to reward businesses that promote secure jobs.
Labor will also oppose the government’s omnibus bill of IR changes, which includes principles Labor supports including a crackdown on wage theft and underpayment, and attempts to halt the rise of casual workers.
Employer groups lined up on Wednesday to slam the Labor changes, saying they would add significantly to costs and put a handbrake on jobs and investment when the economy needed them most.
They instead urged Labor to support the government’s bill, which was developed after consultation with business and unions.
“The focus of IR reform during the recovery from the greatest economic decline since the Great Depression needs to be on measures to boost jobs and investment,” said Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group.
“Unfortunately, the policies being announced by the Opposition Leader today do not pass this test.”
To stop what it says is an abuse of independent contractor provisions by gig economy giants, Labor will extend 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.
This will entitle the workers to a minimum wage and basic protections such as sick leave and annual leave.
Mr Willox said gig work played “an important role in providing work and income to lots of people who do not find it easy to enter the labour market”.
“Most gig workers engage in gig work to supplement their income – not as their main source of income.”
Dom Taylor, the general manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand, said “flexible working opportunities that you can tailor around your life have been traditionally very hard to find”.
“But workers shouldn’t have to choose between benefits and protections or the independence and flexibility available through app-based work and we welcome conversations with policymakers on reforms in this area.”
The most visceral reaction was reserved for a proposal to discuss with state governments, business and industry a national system enabling people in insecure work to take with them to the next job accrued annual leave, sick leave and long-service leave.
Mr Porter said: “The cost of paying annual leave, sick leave and long-service leave for the first time in Australian history to all casual employees and independent contractors, the Attorney-General’s Department estimates would be $20.3 billion per year.”
Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke said Mr Porter was hyperventilating and that there would not be any new entitlements.
“We’re simply proposing that we would work with state and territory governments and with unions and industry to work out where it might be appropriate for portable entitlements to be extended,” he said.
“They’re entitlements that already exist and they would follow the worker.”
Regardless, Mr Willox said portable leave schemes operating in a few industries such as construction and coal mining were funded by a levy on employers of up to 3 per cent for long-service leave alone.
A national scheme as proposed by Labor “would require a very large levy on employers” and “operate as a tax on employment, and destroy jobs and investment”.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott urged Labor to back the government’s bill.
“Our priority must be job creation,” she said. “Anything that locks in rigid rules and returns us to outdated 1980s thinking will take us all backwards.
“There is a package currently before the Parliament that will deliver permanent change to reinvigorate the enterprise bargaining system that sees people earn more with better conditions.”