'Flawed': Employers voice opposition to gig worker reforms

'The kinds of changes being considered cannot fairly be characterised as just closing loopholes'

'Flawed': Employers voice opposition to gig worker reforms

Several employer groups are voicing opposition to the government’s suggested reforms around gig workers. Titled "Closing Loopholes Bill," the government is proposing to give Fair Works Commission (FWC) the authority to set minimum standards for employee-like workers.

"This is flawed, it's not the way forward and the bill should not be passed because the bottom line is this will not close loopholes," said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia.

"It will open up more problems and the people who will be affected most are the Australian workers who will have lower productivity and lower wages, consumers and small businesses who are already struggling with a sea of red tape."

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox also said the reform will only add uncertainty and complexity over the employment of casuals, contractors, and labour hires.

"By any reasonable assessment, the kinds of changes being considered cannot fairly be characterised as just closing 'loopholes,'" said Ai Group chief executive in a statement.

Willox also criticised the bill for seeming to represent the "wish list of a union movement," a sentiment shared by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI).

"Under this proposal, it is the union’s way or the highway. It would be a devastating blow to ambitious Australians who want to determine their own future," said ACCI CEO Andrew McKellar in a statement.

"The Orwellian title, 'Closing Loopholes Bill,' is more accurately the Closing Business Bill, because that is what will happen if it goes ahead unchanged."

Prices likely to go up with gig worker reforms

McKellar also warned that prices will likely go up for consumers because of the bill.

"With no little regard for the millions of Australians who go online for rideshare, food delivery, and myriad other services, this legislation proposed by the government puts at risk the easy access that consumers want," he said.

"Your food delivery or your lift home on a Friday night will be more expensive and less accessible because of these changes."

Westacott also echoed similar warnings about how the proposal will give consumers "extra costs."

"Any government that's serious about cost of living would not do this. They should not add cost and complexity at a time when people are struggling to pay their bills," she said.

‘Closing Loopholes Bill’ targets gig workers

 The Australian government said it will introduce on Monday its latest industrial relations reform to "protect gig workers" across the country.

Employment Minister Tony Burke said employee-like workers are those with low bargaining power, low levels of control over the work they do, as well as those paid with wages less than what they would get if they were an employee.

"Realistically, the food-delivery apps that you use would be covered, and the workers there would be covered. The rideshare apps that you use would be covered. And the apps that are used in the care economy would be covered. Because they all meet that employee-like test," Burke said in a speech at the National Press Club.

The minister, however, clarified that the proposal will not set minimum standards on overtime rates and rostering arrangements.

"You couldn't do that. But things like minimum rates of pay, things like terms of payment, time periods, how quickly you have to be paid after a shift. Those sorts of principles would all be able to find their way through decisions of the Fair Work Commission into being minimum standards," Burke said.

Minimum standards for gig workers

Under the proposal, the government also wants employee-like workers to be granted with the right to ask the FWC to resolve disputes on unfair deactivation by the digital labour platforms.

"So, not as many rights as an employee, but certainly more than zero, which is where people are at the moment, and the full flexibility of the technology and the convenience of the technology remains," Burke said.

For independent contractors, the minister said the bill will make the FWC deal with cases as a no-cost jurisdiction so independent contractors would no longer need to "lawyer up and turn up with a legal team" in cases of dispute.

'The employee gets the most rights. The independent contractor gets a right against unfair contracts. But that's it. Halfway along, for gig workers, we establish a set of minimum standards for them," Burke said.

Meanwhile, the minister said the bill also aims to close the loopholes on wage theft and labour hire. It also seeks to address the situation where an individual is "forced to be a permanent casual."

Employers ask for change to gig worker reforms

Businesses are expressing hope that the government will make changes to the bill following their appeals.

"Crucially, we also expect that the government will remain open to continuing to make changes to any proposed reforms once the detail of the Bill is made public," Willox said.

Westacott, however, suggested a return to the drawing board to address the bill's potential impact.

"The government needs to go back to the drawing board, so we are clear about the problem we are trying to solve and we're clear about the ramifications," the BCA chief said.

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