Event: Business press conference on Same Job, Same Pay
Date: Monday, 5 June 2023, 10.30 am AEST
Speakers: Andrew McKellar CEO ACCI; Matthew Addison Chair COSBOA; Charles Cameron CEO RCSA; Shaun Schmitke Acting CEO MBA; Tania Constable CEO MCA; Tony Maher CEO NFF
Topics: industrial relations, ‘Same Job, Same Pay, interest rates, China trade sanctions, minimum wage decision
Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI): Thanks very much for joining us this morning. We wanted to introduce a new very broadly based business campaign which is responding to the government’s so-called ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ legislation. We say there is a better way to approach this. There needs to be genuine consultation with business. We want to make a difference. There are some fundamental issues here that go to the points of fairness and opportunity that need to be addressed as the government seeks to develop this legislation. It’s part of a broader package of measures but I think as you can see from the groups that appear today we have a broad coalition of leading business groups that are joining this particular campaign. Of course there are others we are talking to and others that are very strongly aligned with the concerns that business has right across the board and that extends right through from big business, from the mining and resources industry, small business, farmers, the whole gambit really, the construction industry, retailers, right across the board. I think there’s quite unanimous concerns. So I’ll introduce a number of my colleagues and then Tania Constable from the Minerals Council of Australia will close out. And of course, we are happy to take questions.
Matthew Addison, chair Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA): Matthew Addison, chair of COSBOA. Small business look to reward their workers fairly and equitably. What we’re really concerned here is that the worker won’t be able to work harder and get rewarded for it. They won’t be able to be productive and get rewarded for it. Under some of the language that is being used along ‘Same Job, Same Pay’, everybody gets paid the same. No loyalty rewards, no experience rewards, no productivity rewards. We would really like this journey of reform to identify what is the problem. Then we need a solution to target that problem. Let’s identify the workers, let’s identify the error, and then solve it. So small business typically are a very productive, positive, workplace relations environment. We’re concerned that this will disrupt it and will discourage workers. Thank you.
Charles Cameron, chief executive officer Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association (RCSA): As a representative of over 900 firms that provide labour hire and staffing firms, the Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association. We first went to the Labor Party back in 2017 to seek insight and evidence for the need for a same job, same pay policy. For over six years now we have been unable to actually understand the justification for this policy. We can only assume it’s being driven by the unions because it breaks the business model. We are very happy to work constructively and identify the problem. We simply cannot understand where that problem exists. The University of Melbourne research indicates that labour hire workers are predominantly paid more than their direct hire counterparts. We have enterprise bargaining laws that allow same job, same pay included in enterprise bargaining agreements. We already have a solution for the so called problem. We’re looking for the evidence. We need evidence-based policy from this government not mates-based policy.
Tony Maher, CEO National Farmers Federation (NFF): The agricultural industry and the farming industry stands side by side with our industry colleagues today. So the ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ policy is unfair, unreasonable and actually unrealistic. What it will do is remove the incentive for hard work. It will remove the recognition for experience, expertise and initiative. It will add another layer of complexity to what is an already difficult unworkable IR system that if it continues in this direction will undermine our global competitiveness from an agricultural industry. It will also undermine productivity. Farms don’t have HR departments to work out exactly what’s happening. They use labour hire contractors, an incredibly complex system. Farmers are interested in getting food and fibre from the paddock to the supermarket shelves into consumers. This policy ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ scheme will undermine that process and potentially mean that farmers are not competitive.
Shaun Schmitke, acting CEO Master Builders Australia (MBA): Master Builders represents an industry which consists of over 440,000 separate business entities. 98 per cent of which are small business and we have over 260,000 independent contractors in the sector. Our industry is completely dominated by small, mum and dad run, family businesses and lots of self-employed independent tradies. As it currently stands, the ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ policy has left the door open to capture the building and construction industry. It will capture subcontractors and the use of independent contractors. Everybody knows that the way that building work is performed it means that we are an industry which is highly dependent on subcontracting and independent contracting as a model that underpins our sector. If these laws extend into our sector it will be a disaster. It will hurt mum and dad businesses. It will make independent contracting and it will drive down wages, drive up costs and make it harder for construction in order to what they need to do to address Australia’s housing needs and construction needs. We want the government to rethink this policy. We want the government to be out there to create laws that support more small businesses and encourage and recognise reward and opportunity.
Tania Constable PSM, chief executive officer Minerals Council of Australia (MCA): Good morning, Tania Constable from the Minerals Council of Australia. As you’ve seen in the budget the export industries, the resources industries have underpinned the budget in 2023. This policy of ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ would undermine that productivity that we see. We’ll see job losses. It’s unfair. We want to see opportunities for all businesses. The fact that we’re all standing up here today, that we’re working across business does demonstrate how significant that this policy would be. It’s like a noose around business’ and workers’ necks across Australia and we want to see a fair system that will provide productivity and jobs into the future. Thank you and we’re ready to take questions.
Journalist: Ms Constable. Quite a lot of the tone in this campaign is the consultation phase from your point of view has been a bit of a sham. Are you going to keep consulting with Minister Burke or is this sort of drawing a line under that? Is there any point staying involved in the consultations?
Tania: Business as a whole are ready to talk to government; have been talking to government. The fact is the government hasn’t listened to our concerns this last year. They’ve put forward a consultation paper that actually is regressive. It is worse than we saw in terms of policies last year and affects all of business. It effects service contractors, it effects labour hire, it effect individual organisations. There is no one across Australia that is untouched by this [inaudible] policy. But we’ll keep consulting because that’s what business does in good faith. But we also need government to listen to our concerns, take a step back and define the problem. It’s policy on the run at the moment.
Journalist: What’s the basis for the claim that employers will be forced to pay people with little knowledge or experience the same as others? Don’t you always have the ability to hire people on higher or lower grades depending on their knowledge and experience?
Tania: Well the policy is, same job, same pay. It is ill-defined in this stage. What it says you can be employed by a business for six months and get the same pay as somebody who’s been there for six years. Is that fair? I would say no. You’re not rewarded for experience. You’re not rewarded for hard work. That’s what this policy is saying because it’s so ill-defined.
Journalist: But take the journalist award for example. There’s something like 12 grades. You could have someone writing the news employed as a J1, J5, J10. What is it about the consultation so far that makes you think that you’re not going to be able to hire people at those different pay points.
Tania: Because the policy is so ill-defined. It’s broad. It doesn’t show the problem that is there. The government talks about loopholes well we’re yet to see those loopholes. We’ve got a whole set of legislation that is about to come in force without the government being able to demonstrate about how this new set of policies will interact. It’s badly define. It’s too broad and has the effect of impacting everyone across business.
Journalist: Are there any changes that you would be prepared to accept for labour hire and the Minister is talking about cowboy labour hire firms? You’re clearly saying this goes well beyond any cowboy activity. Is there anything in this area that you think could be tweaked?
Tania: Well know business wants to see cowboy behaviour. But that’s not what we’re seeing here. We’re seeing ill-defined, broad policy affecting everyone. They haven’t defined what the problem is. I think that’s up to government to come back with what the solutions are. It needs to be very narrow because what we’re seeing is something that is going to impact all of the businesses you have in front of you and beyond. And that’s something that we really can’t afford. We have a problem time at the moment. Cost of living is high. We need to make sure that we’ve got businesses being as productive as we possibly can and it’s going to impact all of our businesses.
Journalist: Are you prepared if the government does, based on the comments from Minister Burke today, I don’t think he’s moving. Are you prepared to run this all the way to the next election?
Tania: This is a significant campaign. We’re not going to stop until government listens and that’s what we want to make sure everyone understands. The fact that industries across Australia are working together because we see a major problem with our industrial relations system and potential the new industrial laws that haven’t been well defined, that don’t provide a productive environment for our businesses. Yes, we won’t stop until government listens.
Journalist: Mr Addison mentioned that there’s no ability to have loyalty, experience or productivity based rewards. You’ve talked about it being ill-defined about the level of knowledge or experience. What proposals have employers made to retain the ability to pay people along those lines as part of the consultations?
Andrew: Look I think the agenda here is very clear that this is about trying to limit the capacity of labour hire contracting firms to operate and conduct business currently and that’s our concern. So it’s not for us to have to demonstrate that’s not working. It is working currently. It offers flexibility. It means that there is the ability for people to be employed on a flexible basis and for that to be recognised. On average, people in labour hire are being paid more in many cases than the situation for direct employees and that makes good sense. What we want to be able to do is continue those practices where you can manage demand, create jobs, deliver projects as they need to be delivered rather than getting into a situation where there is an artificial restriction. Let’s not beat around the bush. This is all about an agenda to try to restrict those legitimate businesses from conducting their operations and to deliver outcomes which are basically at the request of unions to try and make it easier for them to recruit members.
Journalist: But the policy is about trying to ensure that people are paid the same regardless of their mode of employment, labour hire or direct employment. It’s not directed at trying to obliterate all distinctions and pay points between different experience, different output. Or is it? What evidence do you have to say it is?
Andrew: If I can say I think you’ve misunderstood the intent of what’s being proposed because it’s about trying to put people who can be in the same workplace but employed by different employers into the same bucket and those people are not employed on the same terms and conditions so it’s an artificial distinction. That’s what it is and it’s trying to remove and blur those lines and there are issues here around recognition of people’s experience and also their productivity which are at the core of our current system and this is really trying to rewrite those arrangements to a one size fits all. We’re not comfortable with that. We urge the government to consult properly and effectively on that and to work through those concerns with business. Now, that’s right across the board as you’ve seen here today. You’ve got representatives from small business, from the farming sector, from the construction industry, from mining and resources, right across the board, manufacturing, retails, all of those areas are saying the same thing to government.
Journalist: Has Minister Burke given you a timeline on when he wants to get this legislation in and through by?
Andrew: Look we’re expecting that the legislation will be introduced in the next couple of months as the parliament comes back late July, early August. That’s the timeframe we expect. But obviously, there needs to be a full process of consultation. Now, we’ve had the opportunity to make initial submissions. We’re not satisfied that’s a genuine dialogue at this point and that’s what we’re asking the government to do. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that there should be that genuine process of dialogue and consultation.
Journalist: Even if the government does consult with you, what happens if they move quickly with these reforms. Will you continue to ramp up your advertising campaign?
Andrew: It’s part of the democratic process. Clearly across the board business is taking a very strong and united front here. We will stick to our guns but I think we are seeking to raise awareness of this issue. Obviously, we are seeking to engage with government, with opposition, with the crossbenchers as this comes to parliament. There will be the legislative process. Let’s work through all of those things. But I think experience says we’ve got to do some of that early lifting right now in order to try and carry some of those arguments.
Journalist: On another matter, we learned a short time ago that China will be resuming trade on Australian stone fruit, citrus fruits, mangoes and cherries. Is that something that you had seen coming? Is this welcome news?
Tony: It certainly is welcome news. It brings a smile to my face. The relationship between Australia and China is going in the right direction for agriculture. China has been a key partner and we hope will be a key partner going forward for agricultural trade so that’s really good news.
Journalist: Is this particular area, citrus, stone fruits, mangoes, cherries, is China a big market ordinarily to the trade tensions?
Tony: China is an incredibly attracting and important market and is growing all the time. Sectors like horticulture see China as a significant growth market and developments in this space are really welcome for Australian farmers.
Journalist: Any idea how much it’s worth?
Tony: Not at this point, sorry.
Journalist: Just to Andrew, obviously tomorrow the Reserve Bank’s meeting. Interest rates are very likely to go up based on economic forecasts. How much would that be of a big hit to businesses if consumers have less money to spend [inaudible]. And how much do you think the minimum wage decision handed down on Friday will kind of factor in terms of the Reserve Bank’s thinking?
Andrew: Look, I can’t pre-empt what will happen tomorrow. Obviously, we are concerned about the impact 11 interest rate increases have had to date. Not just on households, on people with mortgages, but obviously on many businesses are well, in particular small businesses. We are seeing that’s really starting to bite in the economy in a number of sectors. Particularly, areas like retail, small business across the board. So we have urged the Reserve Bank to be very cautious on its approach now with monetary policy. Not to do further damage to the economy, to create more difficulty than is already there. We have to tread very carefully. But let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow. Okay, thank you.
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