Anthony Albanese will seek to make the next election a fight about insecure work rather than a referendum on the Government’s coronavirus response.
The Labor leader will deliver a major policy speech on Wednesday
His party opposes the Government’s workplace reforms, and he wants improved conditions for those in the “gig” economy
Mr Albanese wants the coming election to be fought on differing “visions” for the country, not the pandemic
In an attempted reboot of Labor’s successful 2007 campaign against WorkChoices, the Opposition Leader will use a speech in Brisbane on Wednesday to accuse Prime Minister Scott Morrison of a “full-frontal attack” on pay, conditions and job security.
Labor has already flagged rejecting — in their entirety — the Government’s proposed industrial relations changes, and Mr Albanese will unveil an alternative plan that would give so-called “gig economy workers” more protection and improve conditions for others in casual or contract work.
The “gig” economy, which pays workers by task rather than by hours worked, has grown significantly in recent years with the explosion of businesses including Uber, Deliveroo, Menulog and AirTasker.
But critics of these “on demand” services say workers are paid below minimum rates and have no entitlement to the conditions enjoyed by other workers, including sick leave, protection against unfair dismissal, superannuation and the right to collectively bargain.
Labor plans to give the Fair Work Commission the ability to intervene and establish rights and obligations in new or emerging forms of employment.
“Labor will ensure that the independent umpire has the capacity to inquire into all forms of work and determine what rights and obligations should apply,” Mr Albanese will say, according to a draft speech.
Political flashpoints revisited
Mr Albanese will also reaffirm Labor’s intention to abolish the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission — flashpoints in the IR debate over two elections.
For those in insecure work, Labor is proposing “portable entitlements” that migrate with the worker from job to job, including annual, sick and long service leave.
And to stop labour hire firms being used to undercut workers, Labor will support a “same job, same pay” principle.
Those on fixed term contracts would be offered permanent work under Labor’s plan after 24 months or no more than two consecutive contracts, whichever comes first.
The Labor leader will promise to better define a casual worker, based on fairness, saying casual work is too often being “used and abused to deprive people of pay, leave entitlements or job security”.
“The next federal election will not be a referendum on the coronavirus pandemic,” Mr Albanese says in his speech.
Industrial relations clash
Labor’s plan has some overlap with the Coalition’s IR plan, which the Government plans to legislate in March.
Attorney-General Christian Porter insists the changes are “modest”, but unions and the Labor Party say they will stifle wage increases and leave workers worse off.
The so-called IR Omnibus Bill proposes increasing fines for wage theft and defines casual work as “where there is no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work”.
The Coalition’s bill proposes tackling insecure work by forcing employers to offer casual employees full-time or part-time work once they have been employed for 12 months — a requirement would be embedded as a new casual conversion entitlement in the National Employment Standards.
The Omnibus Bill seeks to fast-track and extend flexibility provisions to some retail and hospitality awards to allow COVID-hit businesses to adjust pay and conditions — with the employee’s agreement — if the employer “reasonably” believes it necessary to revive the business.
Labor and the unions argue employers and employees are unequal bargaining partners and this provision would inevitably harm workers.
Similarly contentious is a proposal for a two-year exemption for COVID-affected businesses from the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) which prevents individuals being made worse off under an enterprise agreement.
Mr Porter has already signalled the Government might drop its proposed changes to the BOOT.
Less controversial, but still opposed by Labor, is lengthening greenfields agreements, typically struck between companies and unions on major projects, from three to four years to eight years. This is aimed at giving investors greater certainty on project costs.
When Bill Shorten was Labor leader, he backed greenfields agreements, but Labor and the unions say the Coalition’s proposed threshold of $250 million is too low.
“Let’s be clear — the Labor Party will never support any legislation that undermines the pay, conditions and security of Australian workers,” Mr Albanese’s speech reads.