At the outset, it must be noted that this report is being tabled in the context of Australia's current unemployment rate of 4.2 per cent, which in a single statistic, exposes the Labor lie that job insecurity is a widespread issue in this nation. Unemployment is projected to fall below 4 per cent for the first time in half a century, with businesses across the nation seeking workers as the economy recovers.
The Morrison-Joyce Government is determined to continue with the economic plan that is helping more Australians into work. Lower unemployment is also creating the economic conditions that will see wages rise. This is the power of an economic plan, supported by the strong economic management that has seen Australia as one of only nine countries in the world to have a AAA credit rating.
Nothing more than a stunt
This Senate Select Committee on Job Security gave the senators participating in the inquiry the opportunity to investigate potential reform to the employment arrangements in those Australian industries and sectors that have been disrupted by active technological and economic forces over time, as well as the acute impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Liberal and National Senators are strongly of the view that successful reform delivers positive outcomes for individuals, businesses, local communities and our nation as a whole. Our economic prosperity is what affords us the ability to care for our most vulnerable, protect our environment and to give our children the best start in life. Successful reform would drive improved productivity and efficiency, while increasing the opportunity for more Australians to benefit from the dignity of work with additional flexibility working to mutual advantage. Australians increasingly want to fit work around life, rather than life around work—that demands flexibility. Coalition economic reforms have seen 1.7 million more jobs since being elected in 2013, and there have never been more women in the workforce—ever.
It is concerning that the inquiry has amounted to little more than a political farce by the Labor-Greens Alliance, staged with two primary objectives: developing a predetermined, internally cultivated narrative to discredit the success of the Morrison Government's economic management, whilst simultaneously campaigning for big government and union control of Australians in the workplace—imposing more restrictions and intrusion upon both workers and businesses.
Liberal and National Senators have passed down a dissenting report with each interim report and sought to improve the honesty and integrity of the inquiry whilst limiting the shameful partisanship exhibited by Labor and Greens Senators. Unfortunately, Labor and Greens Senators continued to engage from a hostile, predetermined ideological position, using many witnesses in a dishonest way to cherry-pick data and accounts that supported their negative narrative, whilst being dismissive of any alternative view.
The worst example of this came from evidence from the Transport Workers Union (TWU), who were invited to appear on multiple occasions, despite their evidence being discredited by other witness testimony. For instance, the TWU asserted earnings of $10.42 per hour as being representative of average Australian food delivery driver earning by basing it on a self-selected survey of only 209 respondents.
In stark contrast to these claims by the TWU, the data provided by Uber's submission (who are best placed to provide data on earnings) places the average hourly income for gig workers at well over $20 per hour from that platform alone, notwithstanding earnings on other platforms. The evidence provided was:
… people have an average take-home earnings of $20.47 per hour if they drive a car, $21.97 per hour on a motorcycle and $21.92 per hour on a bicycle.
Uber were called before the committee a second time in November 2021, where earnings during the period of the Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns were considered. The average earnings per hour before costs was revealed at $29 per hour for food delivery and $32.25 per hour for rideshare—which is incredible when you consider that workers could have been using multiple platforms at once, and that these averages included all 'online time' rather than just the 'engaged time'. From Hansard:
Senator SMALL: Thanks, Chair, and good morning. I would like to pick up on the conversation we've been having. You mentioned a figure for the mobility business of $32.25 an hour for online time. Just to be clear: is that for online time, or for engaged time?
Mr Taylor: I confirm that it is for all time on the app. That will include times when people are engaged and times when they are not engaged—when they may be taking trips on competitor apps or doing all sorts of things. They are well within their rights to do what they want in that period when they are not engaged.
Senator SMALL: So the data you presented showing the average of $32.25 an hour for online time in the mobility business is for Uber alone and it is entirely plausible—in fact, given your survey data, it is entirely likely—that driver partners are working for other platforms and, therefore, earning on other platforms at the same time.
Mr Taylor: That's right. The survey we got back suggested that 40 per cent of the drivers and delivery people are operating on other platforms at any point in time.
To further highlight how debased the TWU's claims are, consider the evidence given by two separate Uber drivers:
Senator GROGAN: Thank you very much for appearing today. It does seriously help in our deliberations. Would you be able to tell me what you believe your approximate hourly rate is when you're driving for Uber?
Uber Driver X: I'll start. It varies. It all depends on how busy the platform is running on the day. If I'm in a quiet area around where I live, which is out of the city a bit, I could probably get about 20 bucks an hour, but in peak times when I'm working I can get up to 50 to 60 bucks an hour.
Ms Berry: Yes, I would agree with that.
The outrageous, and subsequently discredited claims made by TWU Secretary, Mr Michael Kaine, were not limited only to earnings, as he even stated that:
We've had security incidents. We've had passengers at Perth Airport being allowed airside to collect their baggage because there was only one baggage handler left to unload the entire aircraft. We've had evidence of staff being forced back to work while they're injured.
After further information was sought on notice, the TWU response was a shameful assertion that it was not the TWU's job to 'perform the role that should be performed by adequately funded Government agencies'. If the TWU was genuine in its preaching about the need for safety and improvements in parts of industry, demonstrating that need with evidence is surely a reasonable expectation for any Parliamentary Committee considering legislative reform.
This sort of shamefully hypocritical behaviour is to be expected from the TWU, given that it advertised in 2021 for 'food delivery union organisers' in Sydney, on a part-time (10-20 hours per week) fixed-term contract for 3 months—thereby itself utilising the 'precarious' and 'insecure' work arrangements it vocally decries when used by other employers.
The relentlessly negative politicking undermined the committee's proceedings resulting in an inquiry that has amounted to nothing more than a partisan political campaign in advance of the upcoming federal election. Labor's shamelessly ideological campaign should remind every business owner that the Labor-Greens alliance is extremely dangerous for every Australian business and their workers. The Labor-Greens alliance would sooner have no jobs and no pay in any given sector than see an employment relations framework that does not ensconce their union mates in power.
Notes on recommendations from this report
Recommendation 3 exposes this inquiry for what it is. There can be no doubt that every Australian should be safe in the workplace, but to debase such an important issue with the idea of job insecurity as a psychological hazard is farcical. The fundamental point is that legislating 'job security' does not make jobs more secure—creating a strong economy and new job opportunity does.
The Morrison Government has supported the economy with an unprecedented safety net during the ravages of COVID-19. Economy-wide programmes such as JobKeeper, Cash Flow Boost and the extended Instant Asset Write-off were supplemented with targeted provisions such as HomeBuilder and direct support for the tourism industry. Additionally, the Morrison Government took the decision to permanently increase JobSeeker payments by the largest amount since 1986. To have Labor and Greens Senators recommending further direct support in an economy that is now larger than pre-pandemic is fiscally irresponsible. Providing more support would require taking out more debt and increasing taxes, and highlights that a Labor-Greens government would risk to our economic recovery.
Recommendation 7 of the majority report is completely rejected by Liberal and National Senators. The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021 was passed less than a year ago, with new standards and definitions surrounding casual work and casual conversion only being fully implemented from 27 September 2021. The Bill was widely consulted, with ministerial round tables across Australia, to find a balance that provided beneficial outcomes to employers and employees.
The passage of the bill removed employers from the shackles of a potential $39 billion double-dip liability and gave them the confidence they needed to invest and employ. These measures were critical to supporting Australia's economic recovery from COVID-19, so the fact that the Labor-Greens alliance would seek to unwind them is a risk to that recovery.
The intention of the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021 was for it to operate into the long-term and contribute to stabilising workplace relations well into the future, providing certainty to all parties involved. Australia needs economic stability, not chaos and confusion.
In what is possibly the first announcement of Labor's next tax on jobs, they have opted to use this report to call for a review of national portable leave schemes, with a view to expanding them across the economy. This partisan recommendation conveniently aligns with Labor's already-announced policy of developing 'portable entitlement schemes for annual leave, sick leave and long service leave for Australians in insecure work'. Extending casual employees—who already receive 25 per cent loading in lieu of these entitlements—and independent contractors four weeks annual leave, two weeks sick leave, and long service leave entitlements at the average rate of earnings would create a $20.3 billion liability for businesses. This is just a $20.3 billion jobs tax announced by Labor. Portable leave schemes would be a tax on jobs that would also be open to the rorting that we have seen in state-based schemes to an unimaginable extent.
The concept of portable leave was considered by this committee during the inquiry. Despite serious concerns being exposed, and witnesses who were unable to articulate any satisfactory defence of the schemes they had already promoted, the recommendation to expand these schemes was made. Those serious concerns exposed by Liberal and National Senators include the extensive employment of union-linked persons, significant donations of money to unions, and so-called entitlements only being paid out at the discretion of a trustee, rather than by any entitlement at law, without being subject to merits and legal review in the case of a dispute. This exchange should horrify every working Australian as it highlights the shameless exploitation of workers for political purposes by the ALP and their union masters:
Mr Batchelor: We drew on the examples and the experience that we've seen here in Victoria in the construction industry but also more recently in expansion of portable entitlements, particularly in relation to long service leave, in security, cleaning and other parts of community services… The report that we put out says that, based on the successful models we've seen in construction and community services, we think that could be rolled out in other industries.
Senator SMALL: You point to the construction sector as an example where this has been established, so I want to flesh that out a little bit.
Mr Batchelor: In Victoria, in the construction industry, there's a trust fund that exists to oversee and manage those entitlements. It has a long name, but the trading name of the organisation is Incolink.
Senator SMALL: The reason I ask this series of questions is that I have grave concerns with the model that you point to as a viable option for dealing with this. For instance, in 2015–16, $8.5 million was donated to the CFMEU, $742,000 to the AWU and $493,000 to the CFMEU by Incolink. You're pointing to a model that is supposed to address a very noble cause, and that's dealing with pandemic illness. I guess my concern is that nine per cent of private sector employees choose union membership and yet an organisation that effectively covers 100 per cent under the model that you're proposing shovels money their way.
Mr Batchelor: I'm not here to speak up behalf of Incolink. I'm not aware of the circumstances.
In the face of such serious concerns around existing schemes, it defies any rational belief that the Labor-Greens report could countenance such a scheme being rolled out on a national scale.
Recommendation 8 exposes Labor's plans to use taxpayer money to dance to the tune of their union masters in order to destroy the ability for people to make their own choices about undertaking casual work. Whilst no detail exists around the new or higher taxes that Labor would use to pay for the 'campaigns', 'subsidies' and 'prioritisation' of non-competitive firms, at least the increased red tape for business in the form of 'increased reporting requirements' is clear. This is just another example of Labor demonising casual work when it is a worthy employment arrangement that allows thousands of Australians to balance work with other activities, including caring responsibilities, transitioning to retirement, and full-time study.
As the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) noted, following its appearance on 21 April 2021:
We emphasise in particular that effective access to casual work will never be more important for young Australians at greatest risk of sustained damage to their careers and earnings arising from the impact of the pandemic on their labour market entry. We urge the Committee to not recommend any measures or changes of policy which would have the effect of seeing fewer young Australians having opportunities to work, gain experience, gain referees etc.
Recommendation 9 reveals another secret Labor plan, to funnel taxpayer money directly to their union mates who help fund them. Political donation data released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) shows that in 2020–21, unions provided more than $6.7 million to Labor. This is in addition to the $3.7 million being spent from union coffers on campaigns against the Coalition Government. At the same time, union membership has consistently decreased over the last three decades (40 per cent to just 14.3 per cent over the last 30 years), with small business employees leaving unions in droves as Australian workers opt to have more flexibility and control over their own employment agreements. Australians are voting with their feet when it comes to the forms of work that suit them best. Under the Coalition Government, more than 60 per cent of total jobs growth has been in the form of full-time employment, and more people are employed full-time now than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Critically, and as RBA Governor Philip Lowe noted, 'we should not think of part-time jobs as being bad jobs, and full-time jobs as being good jobs', because over 75 per cent of part-time workers are happy with current employment status and do not desire to increase their hours of work. Labor just doesn't get what Australians want—they are seeking to fit work around life, rather than trying to fit life around work.
Recommendation 10 is a trojan horse for the unions to seize control of the gig economy, despite the committee having heard extensive evidence about the benefits of flexibility and freedom that such arrangements provide to tens of thousands of Australians. The committee heard repeated evidence that individuals can engage in work without doing a job interview; work that doesn't require a uniform; work that doesn't require you to show up for shifts or apply for leave, and doesn't require you to work for only one business at a time. Indeed, the committee has repeatedly heard evidence that individuals are not even obligated to accept a task when online. Individuals are empowered with unparalleled flexibility, and that seems to be what has made the gig economy Public Enemy Number One for the union movement.
Recommendation 10 seeks to remove the capacity of Australians to decide what is best for them through a bargaining process, and instead centralise that power in the hands of bureaucrats. This overreach is no surprise when TWU Secretary, Mr Michael Kaine, told the Committee that wage fixing was required: 'Because those individuals have no capacity to determine what the value of their work is and what they should be paid'.
The fact that the TWU's most senior representative believes that individuals cannot determine their own worth, make decisions for themselves, or exercise their own prerogative to work, earn and live as they wish is shocking—but it should not be a shock that Labor and Greens Senators are dancing to the tune of their union masters by way of their Recommendation 10.
Flexibility and autonomy also happen to be one of the most desirable aspects of gig work, in the eyes of those who actually do it. Uber's submission to the inquiry notes:
78% of driver-partners signed up to Uber because of its flexible opportunities—and 3 in 5 would not work at all without the flexibility the app provides. More than 4 out of 5 (83 per cent) of delivery people tell us the same thing: they would no longer work on the Uber Eats app if they are required to deliver during set shifts.
The flexibility of Uber Eats also allowed delivery people to engage in other activities such as studying or other work. Four in five delivery people indicated they were working at least one other job …
Uber's own recent survey with over 16 000 drivers and delivery people across Australia, found that flexibility and independence offered by the Uber app was the top area of satisfaction.
The shift of many workers and service recipients in the aged care industry into on-demand platforms, whether earning money via new models or receiving better services via bespoke arrangements, is a hugely positive outcome as technology disrupts the rigidity of traditional employment arrangements. These innovative on-demand platforms that are so popular with workers and support service clients alike could fail and disappear in Australia if a Labor‑Greens government imposed inappropriate regulations. This is not a fanciful scenario—Uber reported to the committee that some of the changes that Labor and Greens Senators seek to impose have already been implemented in other countries to devastating effect.
Geneva mandated that food delivery drivers be classified as employees in a traditional sense, rather than independent contractors. The immediate effect of this change was to put 77 per cent of couriers, or 1000 people, out of work. Over the three months before September, around 1300 couriers worked on Uber Eats in Geneva. Under the new operating model, couriers needed to formally apply for a position with the delivery company. The delivery company has only extended employment offers to 300 couriers and all others have lost the ability to earn money with Uber Eats.
Recommendation 17 would be a restriction on any job-creating policy attempted by the Government. Labor and Greens Senators, at the bidding of their union masters, use the term 'insecure work' to reference any type of work that is temporary or non-ongoing, which is normally work that unions have less control over. This goes to the heart of the issue—Labor's union mates will say or do anything to arrest the declining membership of unions in Australia, even if that means demonising the diverse forms of work that allow people to fit work around their life, rather than being forced to fit life around work.
The Morrison Government has always made clear it has zero tolerance for any exploitation of workers, including underpayment of wages and entitlements by any employer. It is disappointing this partisan inquiry refuses to acknowledge that since 2016, the Coalition Government has given more evidence-gathering powers, and committed over $180 million in new funding, to the Fair Work Ombudsman, as well as increasing penalties for lawbreaking employers by up to ten-fold. As a part of this funding, the Fair Work Ombudsman has enhanced their capacity to conduct investigations into underpayments and related issues. If the Labor-Greens Alliance was serious about Recommendations 18 and 19, they would not have voted on 23 February 2021 against legislating a wage theft provision in the Fair Work Act. All while doing the bidding of their union donors by opposing this legislation, Labor labelled workers who missed out on receiving new rights and protections 'collateral damage'.
Recommendation 20 continues to make disingenuous claims about increasing 'extent, growth and impact of insecure work in Australia'. These claims just don't stack up. In fact, what Labor will not admit is that the rate of non‑permanent employment—including people who choose casual employment, independent contracting, labour hire and fixed-term contracting—has remained stable for at least a decade before COVID-19. We know that the highest levels of fixed-term contracting, labour hire and independent contracting all occurred under the last Labor Government.
Employment truths expose Labor's lies
National statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics expose the lies that Labor like to tell about employment in Australia today. The fact that those independent statistics don't suit Labor's pre-election scare campaign explains why they are ignored in favour of statistics provided by their union masters.
Labour hire engagement has held steady as a proportion of the workforce over the previous decade, hovering at around 1 per cent. This dispels Labor's oft‑repeated claim of 'increased rates of casualisation and the utilisation of insecure labour hire workers and independent contractors', with this baseless claim also being pushed for partisan political purposes by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
In stark contrast, the highest ever recorded rate for labour hire was 1.5 per cent, which occurred twice on Labor's watch, in both 2008 and 2011.
For additional context, in Australia's workforce of 13.2 million people, less than 115 000 employees Australia-wide are employed by a labour hire firm.
The proportion of independent contractors has remained broadly stable over the last decade at between 8 and 9 per cent. The all-time record high of 9.8 per cent also occurred under Labor in 2010.
The proportion of fixed-term contractors has remained steady at approximately 4 per cent since 2004, rising from 3.7 per cent to a peak of 4.2 per cent under Labor's watch in 2011.
Labor and Greens Senators, at the bidding of their unions, promote an idea of 'insecure work' to replace the classical definitions of non-ongoing employment. This 'same job, same pay' campaign is misleading and serves only as a trojan horse for job-destroying policies that will lead to increased unemployment across all sectors and industries. Labor really stands for 'no job, no pay' unless you are one of their union mates.
Under the Coalition Government, more than 60 per cent of total jobs growth was in the form of full-time employment. More people are employed full-time now than before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more women are employed now than at any time in history.
Agricultural workforce issues
The inquiry heard evidence from overseas seasonal workers about mistreatment including substandard living conditions and very low wages. The Australian Government recognises that mistreatment has occurred from a minority of employers in the agricultural workspace. The Government has supported enforcement efforts against those that have done the wrong thing.
There were specific allegations made in regards to employment by MADEC Australia, who employed these workers to work at Sunny Ridge Farms. We recognise that MADEC and Sunny Ridge have disputed the intent of the statements made to imply that deductions are made unlawfully or to the advantage of their employer. Deductions are payments made by workers to reimburse the actual cost incurred by employers for services provided to the workers. It is our understanding that the committee will offer the opportunity for MADEC and Sunny Ridge an opportunity to respond to these claims at a public hearing.
More generally, we believe that more could be done to make it easier for seasonal workers to change employers in the same industry for which they have an eligible visa. We heard evidence that transferring employment can be a bureaucratic and restrictive exercise. Making it too hard for workers to leave bad employers can only help sustain the business models of those that exploit the law. This has the effect of also making it harder for the majority of employers and farmers who do the right thing but by doing so may have higher labour costs than the 'cowboys' in the industry.
The Government indicated that it is exploring more 'portability' options to allow workers to change employers. We encourage it to offer this greater flexibility so that things are made harder for employers that are not complying with the law.
The Labor lie of 'same job, same pay'
The fact that Labor have introduced a bill with far-reaching and potentially catastrophic consequences for jobs in Australia warrants consideration. 'Same job, same pay' is little more than a slogan, much less a workplace relations policy. Australians already know what employers think of this thought bubble, as they told the country before the 2019 election.
Worse still, many Australian employers are crying out for staff, meaning that to tie them up in red tape and make it harder to employ more people would actually threaten our economic recovery from COVID-19.
Innes Willox, CEO of Ai Group, said that the bill was 'unfair and unworkable ... It is all cost, all barriers ... This policy takes us back to a 1960s-style nine-to-five workplace which is unsuitable for a 21st century economy'.
Andrew McKellar, CEO of ACCI, said that:
This Bill means that labour hire employees won't receive the pay rates they negotiated, but instead rates negotiated by other employers and employees they have never met. Labour hire employees will become the only employees in the country denied any role in negotiating their wages.
Mr McKellar also said: 'the Federal Opposition's plan to increase labour hire regulation risks undermining the competitiveness and flexibility of Australia's workforce'.
Steve Knott, CEO of the Australian Resources and Energy Group (AMMA), stated that Labor are 'using unsubstantiated claims and baseless accusations to push for excessive regulation and disincentives to high-paid labour hire arrangements'.
Last time Labor proposed to upset the enterprise agreement system with this policy, analysis by Deloitte Access Economics showed Labor's 'same job, same pay' policy would cost 6400 jobs every year and $15.3 billion in lost economic activity.
According to the Minerals Council of Australia, Mining is Australia's largest exporter—resources exports were worth $300 billion in 2020–21 and 2.1 trillion over the past decade. Mining is also Australia's largest industry, accounting for 9.9 per cent of GDP in 2020–21, and was the largest contributor to GDP growth over the last decade, contributing 19.9 per cent in the ten years to 2020–21. Mining is Australia's largest company taxpayer, shelling out $132 billion in company tax between 2010–11 and 2019–20.
Perhaps the most important contribution to Australia is the jobs that mining generates—both directly and indirectly. Deloitte Access Economics estimates that the mining industry and its suppliers together support approximately one in ten Australian jobs:
Directly employs 480 000 people
Indirectly employs 650 000 through purchases from other sectors
Supports 1.1 million jobs or 10.8 per cent of total employment.
Not only does mining generate jobs, but those jobs are some of the most sought after in the country, as the mining industry pays the highest average wages ($143 000 a year). According to the latest ABS data, the average employee in the mining industry paid by a labour hire firm or employment agency had a median weekly earnings of $2618.40, more than $300 or 13 per cent higher than directly hired employees who earned $2301.00. Flexibility doesn't mean lower wages—in fact, as mining shows, flexibility and productivity deliver for both employers and employees.
The Centre for International Economics estimates that the ongoing expansion of mining made Australian households $14 800 better off in 2020 than they otherwise would have been, and made all workers in Australia better off by $120 a week.
Deloitte Access Economics has estimated that if mining companies alone were impacted by Labor's proposed legislation:
Employment in coal mining would decline (relative to where it would otherwise have been) by approximately 2300 full-time-equivalent jobs a year to 2031
Employment in minerals and other mining would fall by 4900 jobs a year
Employment in mining-related construction would contract by 4000 jobs a year.
As Dr Steen from the Minerals Council told the committee:
… capital is mobile and has increasingly become so. We've had an increase in competition as more emerging economies enter. We've seen it's not just developing Asia, but increasingly Africa is going to become more viable over coming decades. That's why it's very important to have the best policy settings we can, because they can have a big impact on what firms can do and the signals that are sent to international investors... you only get increased mining employment when you're able to expand and add new mines.
Labor's same job, same pay slogan is a lie and a risk to Australia's recovering economy. Liberal and Nationals Senators contend that same job, same pay would result in no job and no pay for many in Australia's highest paid industry.
In summary, the test on jobs for the Morrison Government was laid out, repeatedly, by Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers:
The biggest test of this Government's management of the recession and its aftermath will be what happens to jobs.
The test for the Government is whether or not unemployment stays too high for too long.
I expect that will be the main issue at the election, what happens to jobs.
That is absolutely the key test. The Government, the Opposition, any decision-maker in the economy, should be judged on what happens to unemployment …
The most important test of this Government's management of the recession and its aftermath is what happens to jobs and the businesses which create them.
With Australia's unemployment rate at 4.2 per cent and projected to fall below 4 per cent for the first time in half a century, businesses across the nation seeking workers as the economy recovers, 1.7 million more jobs in Australia than when the Government was elected, and more women in work today than at any time in Australia's history, the Government has passed the Labor jobs test with flying colours. Only the Coalition understands that legislating 'job security' does not make jobs more secure—creating a strong economy and new job opportunity does.
Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan
Nationals Senator for Queensland
Senator Ben Small
Liberal Senator for Western Australia