The price of having takeaway delivered or catching an Uber will rise under proposed changes to workplace rules, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has conceded.
The mooted changes will give Australia‘s industrial umpire – the Fair Work Commission – the power to create minimum standards, including pay and safety conditions, for “gig” workers on digital platforms across sectors including food delivery, ride sharing and in-demand care.
Mr Burke accepted there would be “some pass through” to consumers as a result of the reforms as platforms would inevitably charge their customers more.
However, he argued it was essential to pay a “tiny bit extra” to bring gig workers’ conditions and minimum rates of pay into line with their permanent counterparts.
“Underpaying is cheaper. Slavery is probably cheaper too,” Mr Burke said in an address to the National Press Club on Thursday.
“If that means there’s a tiny bit extra that you’re paying when your pizza arrives to your door, and they’re more likely to be safe on the roads getting there, then I reckon that’s a pretty small price to pay.”
Set to be tabled in parliament next Monday, the changes will form part of the Closing Loopholes Bill, which will also include cracking down on labour hire, making it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent roles, and increasing penalties for wage underpayments.
In his address, Mr Burke also revealed some workers on digital marketplaces such as Airtasker, HiPages and Gumtree, could be scooped up under proposed changes to workplace rules if they satisfy a New Test.
Instead of defining which platforms the changes will apply to, the commission will apply a new test to determine if workers on the platform have low bargaining power, low authority over their work, or receive low enough pay to apply.
Business groups, which fiercely oppose the changes, immediately seized on the admission from Mr Burke, arguing changes would drive up costs and return Australia’s industrial laws to the “yellow pages era” by seeking to undermine independent contracting.
“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,” Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew McKellar said.
“The Orwellian title, ‘Closing Loopholes Bill’, is more accurately the Closing Business Bill, because that is what will happen if it goes ahead unchanged.”
National Employer Association, Ai Group, was similarly critical of the changes, arguing that the changes undermined the country’s anaemic rates of productivity growth and would discourage new small businesses to be established.
“The proposals … are the antithesis of what is needed to build a 21st century competitive economy,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said.
“This becomes a lawyer‘s picnic, everything now becomes contestable in the Fair Work Commission.
“Employers are under the hammer already around costs around the competitive nature that they place internationally, higher energy costs, the threat of blackouts.”
But the union movement accused employers of “crying wolf” and running a “scare campaign”.
Speaking to reporters in Canberra, ACTU secretary Sally McManus described the reforms as “sensible, modest changes” that would improve the lives of workers in the gig economy.
“The ACTU has never said that all jobs need to be secure,” she said.
“We're just saying that it’s gone too far.
“Finally, we’re having a government that’s going to make, under the announcement today, what are actually very modest changes.
“We’d actually like to see things go further, but sensible, modest changes that are absolutely necessary to help people address what is the current situation in terms of cost of living.”