Statement by AREEA Chief Executive, Steve Knott AM
Resources and energy employers acknowledge the Albanese Government’s consultation on the ‘Closing Loopholes’ package introduced to Parliament today but remain very concerned about proposed new regulation on labour hire, casuals, and expansion of union access to workplaces.
Minister Burke’s consultation with AREEA, and subsequent changes in the Government’s approach, were both welcome and critically important for the resources and energy sector.
Most notably, this included working to ensure genuine service contracting work is not caught up in proposed new pay regulation intended for labour hire arrangements.
Notwithstanding, AREEA and its members – covering hard rock and critical minerals mining, oil and gas, coal, smelting, refining, transport, logistics, engineering, and all other servicing sectors – are concerned about the impact the proposed changes will have on productivity, costs, and flexibility.
AREEA will seek further engagement with Minister Burke to discuss concerns, including:
- Technical issues with how the ‘contractor test’ is drafted. This needs to be clear and unambiguous to ensure businesses delivering services are expressly exempt from labour hire pay orders. At present the legislation leaves far too much discretion with the Fair Work Commission which would only lead to uncertainty and disputes.
- Various unresolved issues with the proposed new obligations on labour hire firms. The Bill presently requires labour hire employers to pay out leave entitlements at clients’ rates of pay and give labour hire workers incentives, bonuses and other payments provided to direct employees of the host business. These expectations are unreasonable and will kill off competitive and flexible labour hire services.
- The unjustified new rights and protections proposed for union workplace delegates. The Government is clearly trying to empower workplace delegates to be de-facto union officials. Expecting employers to foot the bill for members of their own workforce to be industrial activists against them, is entirely unreasonable.
- Allowing union officials to come knocking at employers’ premises, without notice, to inspect pay records. 24 hours’ notice is perfectly reasonable given the resources sector’s strict work health and safety protocols and remote operations. No reasonable case has been put forward for change, outside of the wishes of union bosses to masquerade as Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors and wield power.
More generally, AREEA shares the concerns of the broader business community with changes proposed for casual employment, independent contracting, road transport and more.
The Bill inserts ambiguous, fluid new definitions on concepts already settled by the High Court and could be inconsistent with taxation, superannuation and state contracting law.
The Bill re-opens the prospect of casual employees initiating disputes with their employers over the status of their employment and any back-paid leave entitlements.
And the Bill seeks to impose severe penalties on wage underpayments, including new criminal charges, a five-fold increase in civil penalties and liability for company directors, without any attempt to simplify Australia’s outdated and absurdly complex awards system.
The Government has introduced the most significant proposed changes to Australia’s workplace relations system since the Fair Work Act took effect in 2009.
The Australian Parliament must now be given adequate time to digest and understand the true impacts of the amendments including on productivity, economic activity and employment.
It is critical all Parliamentarians listen to and act upon the concerns of employers who, unlike the union officials championing these policies, bear the privilege and the responsibility of employing people in these challenging times.