Tradies called to “defend their rights” against new government bill

By Jarrod
5 Min Read

Experts warn that a new bill promising to combat wage theft could put some Aussie tradies’ income at risk. 

In an effort to “get wages moving”, the Albanese Labor Government’s latest bill attempts to close loopholes that undercut pay and working conditions across the country. 

However, for Master Builders Australia, the bill is an attack on the industry’s most vulnerable independent contractors.

“The Bill proposes to abandon or undermine a range of legitimate arrangements under which work is necessarily performed in the building and construction industry,” CEO Denita Wawn told Build-it.

“These arrangements are not ‘loopholes’ but are lawful and long-standing, and they are central to how building works are undertaken both domestically and internationally.”

Earlier this month, Master Builders “rejected the Bill in its entirety” in a submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee Closing Loopholes Bill 2023 inquiry. 

According to this submission, the bill will majorly exacerbate key industry challenges, hurt small businesses, drive up the cost of construction and damage parts of the economy that builders depend on.

Ms Wawn said that parts of the bill, such as changes to the definition of ’employee’ and the proposed ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ labour hire provisions, strike at the very heart of the construction industry.

“The proposed laws mean independent contractors won’t have the freedom to choose the hours they work, the projects they work on, or negotiate their own fees and conditions,” she told Build-it.

“Instead, they could be forced to become an employee or spend unnecessary time and money in front of the Fair Work Commission to defend their right to own and run their business.

“Changes in the bill will require employers to spend a lot more time working on compliance and paperwork while introducing uncertainty and significantly increased legal risk.

“Self-employed tradies and the use of subcontractors are both essential for the ongoing operation of an industry that performs over $260 billion worth of construction work each year and is home to more small businesses than any other sector within the Australian economy.”

Other organisations like the Business Council have also used their submission to the Senate to point out the serious flaws in the proposal, asking the Government to “go back to the drawing board”.

“We want a workplace relations system that ensures Australians have safe, high-paying, sustainable jobs that reward people for their hard work, skills and experience,” said Business Council chief executive Bran Black. 

“This bill represents the wrong step for Australia at the wrong time.

“No reliable evidence has been tabled by Government that the measures proposed will achieve the Government’s own objectives, as set out in its Employment White Paper, or that the supposed loopholes the bill is said to close even exist.”

An uncertain future

According to Ms Wawn, the proposal to give the Fair Work Commission (FWC) a new jurisdiction to deal with “unfair contracts” creates uncertainty for everyone in the industry and opens a door for union interference. 

“It is complex, complicated, costly and unnecessary. It will hurt small business and undermines people’s rights to be their own boss,” she told Build-it. 

“This bill opens more options for unions to influence and control a large part of the sector and interfere in commercial matters.

“Builders and tradies know that the prospect of being forced into union-dictated pattern ‘one size fits all’ EBAs, with inflexible and unproductive work practices, is a very real possibility.”

After widespread backlash, the Coalition government blocked the “Closing Loopholes Bill” from advancing in September, pending a Senate Inquiry occurring across the country this month.

Ms Wawn says Masters Builders supports splitting the bill and bringing forward non-contentious changes to asbestos safety, eradication agency, strengthening protection against discrimination, and small business redundancy exemption. 

“In the midst of a cost of living and housing crisis, the flow on effects of unnecessary delays and increased costs to construction cannot be justified,” she told Build-it. 

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.