There’s one seemingly small ‘bit’ in Labor’s election policy that should scare the hell out of Australia’s two million-or-so self-employed independent contractors.
Put simply, Albanese’s Labor intends to close us down.
Sound extreme? The ALP Secure Jobs Plan (one of the few clearly stated policies) says:
‘Labor will extend the powers of the Fair Work Commission to include ‘employee-like’ forms of work…’ Labor intends to attack ‘…new forms of work such as gig work.’
It’s clear what this is about. The history is known. The ‘justification’ Labor uses is well documented. The motivation is clear and the self-interested parties to whom Albanese must kowtow are obvious.
What Albanese plans to do is invent new law that says that self-employed people are a ‘little bit’ an employee, like being ‘a little bit pregnant’. It’s complete nonsense. It defies common sense, but whoever said that politics is about common sense?
If introduced, such laws would attack, even smash, the incomes of people who choose to be their own boss via self-employment.
We know this will be the result because this is what happened in California in early 2020. California introduced a law called AB5. The political spin was that it would ‘protect’ self-employed people. Except it was a job killer which hit the most vulnerable self-employed people. Think of single mums running their own hairdressing business from home … closed down!
There are thousands of examples. Large numbers of Californian self-employed people have had to leave California to continue earning an income. IT contractors, virtual assistants, and self-employed truckies are just some examples.
Way back in 1996, the United Kingdom created a ‘little bit pregnant/employee’ independent contractor law that’s been ‘asleep’ for a while and rarely used. With the introduction of drive-sharing, the UK transport union decided to use this law to declare that Uber drivers are a ‘little-bit’ employees but still independent contractors. It’s thrown common law into chaos in the UK.
In the most recent Australian High Court ruling on employee versus independent contracting (2022) the Court has, however, declared that the UK-type laws are not part of Australian law. This is why Albanese and his Labor crew will need to invent new law.
Labor’s policy is to do this in the name of ‘secure’ work. Labor says that ‘insecure’ work is increasing and a major problem. Labor has been caught out running a beat-up on this and their claim is not supported by the facts. Casual work has actually declined. The size of the self-employed workforce is stable, even down a little as a percentage of the total workforce.
The Albanese plan is entirely a repeat of the disastrous Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal introduced by the 2012 Gillard Labor government. It took until 2016 for it to be fully implemented. When it got rolling, it was about to put 50,000 self-employed truckies out of business. The Small Business Ombudsman said it was totally dodgy. The High Court said that constitutionally it was potentially suspect just before the Turnbull government repealed the law in 2017, thereby saving those jobs.
Labor’s and the unions’ near-hysteria on the ‘evil’ gig economy is silly. Research by the Victorian Labor government showed that only 0.19 per cent of the Australian workforce earned their full-time income through gig work. For everyone else in gig work, it’s top-up income. The alleged ‘crisis’ call by Labor is a smokescreen for something else.
Further, the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations body, declared in 2006 that national laws should not interfere in commercial relationships. Independent contractors operate through the use of commercial contracts. That’s how ‘we’ work. This is the basis for the Australian Independent Contractors Act which provides core protections for independent contractors. And that Act requires that independent contractors should not be paid less than employees.
So here is what Labor promises with an Albanese-led government. They are determined to create a law to harm independent contractors. To do this they will need to do a range of things.
They need to copy the Californian laws that have ripped apart the livelihoods of huge numbers of people. They need to create the common law chaos that’s happening in the UK.
They need to go against Australia’s international obligations under ILO labour law principles and ignore, or somehow get around, constitutional issues on this matter.
They need to reintroduce the anti-self-employed truckie laws but apply these to every independent contractor in Australia, thus threatening the jobs of some two million self-employed people.
Effectively, Albanese is running a policy to prop up a declining union movement.
With union membership down to 9 per cent of the private-sector workforce, unions are running dead in the water. And they are looking for excuses and someone or something to blame. For Albanese’s Labor the ‘solution’ is to attack the jobs and incomes of self-employed people.
Ken Phillips is Executive Director of Self Employed Australia
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