Today Show – television interview
SUBJECTS: Closing Loopholes Bill, criminalising wage theft, closing the labour hire loophole, setting minimum standards in the gig economy, Australia’s aviation industry.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, more than 60,000 workers will see higher wages as the Government moves to close the loopholes that undercut their pay. Joining us now is Workplace Minister Tony Burke. Tony, good morning to you. So, who is the new union’s pin up boy then, eh?
TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: I reckon anyone who’s been underpaid, today’s a good day for them, because wage theft will be a crime. We’ll get some minimum standards in the gig economy and businesses that have been using the labour hire loophole to undercut rates that they’d agreed to, they know time’s up. If you’re an underpaid worker, today’s the day that you know that the Parliament’s finally acting.
STEFANOVIC: Look, I think it’s pretty widely known that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. The problem though, is it’s 284 pages of legislation, 521 pages of support notes. I mean, the Voice is one page, and no one understands it.
BURKE: The reality is, if you want to give people no rights, you can just put in one blank page. If you’re going to give people rights, then you got to put some words on the page. What’s happened in the gig economy in particular is the question has been, are you an employee? When the answer is no. Every single right that a worker would normally have falls off a cliff. What we’re saying is we don’t want to be a country where you have to rely on tips to make ends meet and we need to have some minimum standards, but still in the gig economy, keep that flexibility that everyone likes.
You want to be able to use the technology. I use it, you probably use it. People who work on the platforms like the flexibility, but the price of that shouldn’t be that there’s no minimum rates at all. Yeah, there’s a bit of detail in making sure we get that right —
STEFANOVIC: A bit!
BURKE: But the alternative is – well, the alternative is no standards at all —
STEFANOVIC: Alright. I understand.
BURKE: — and I don’t think Australia wants to be that sort of country.
STEFANOVIC: Alright, realistically, the Senate won’t back it though, right?
BURKE: We keep working with the Senate crossbench. It is a very brave member of the House of Representatives that ever presumes or announces anything about the Senate. We’ll have the debate here in the House of Reps over the next four sitting weeks. We’ll send it to the Senate. I’ve been having good engagement with the crossbench.
There’s no doubt the Opposition is going to say no. I reckon the moment they saw the title ‘Closing Loopholes’, we’d lost them. But the Senate crossbench, we’re having good conversations, we’ll talk to them in good faith and hopefully by the end of the year, workers who’ve been underpaid because of these loopholes and know that the Parliament’s closed them.
STEFANOVIC: Just level, you’ve always been pretty upfront, you’ve got no chance.
BURKE: The same was said twelve months ago and we ended up with legislation that gave people much better job security and much better wages.
STEFANOVIC: Tony, it’s going to take them until the next election before they can read through it all.
BURKE: On the timing if they go through three pages a day, they’ve got plenty of time.
STEFANOVIC: Alright. All I want to know is, I think a lot of people out there, there’s a couple of things, actually, but first up; how much more are my burgers going to cost for an Uber Eats burger under this new legislation?
BURKE: If you look at how much food delivery riders are underpaid at the moment, it’s roughly between $3 and $4 an hour, is what the Victorian inquiry found. If they’re doing four to six deliveries an hour or something like that, you can do the maths pretty easily. It’s not a significant difference in terms of when you’re ordering a few pizzas to the house or something like that, but it’s a really significant difference for some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. And yeah, underpaying people is cheaper.
STEFANOVIC: No, I get it. I get closing that loophole, and that has my complete support. But for businesses, there’s no doubt there are going to be rising costs for them in all of this, and it will affect the bottom line.
BURKE: Most businesses don’t use the loopholes – most businesses just find out what the rules are and follow them. For a limited number of businesses, and particularly the labour hire loophole, for example, that’s principally mining and aviation. For a limited number of businesses in areas that have been posting pretty healthy profits, their workers will earn a little bit more, and I reckon that’s fine.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, but you do concede that in some cases, businesses will have no choice but to increase costs to consumers.
BURKE: You look at the profits in mining and aviation at the moment, I think you’d run a pretty tough argument to say that they couldn’t afford to pay their workers a bit more. And we’re only talking about the rates of pay they’ve already agreed to. This loophole is where a company is already agreed on a rate of pay and then uses labour hire to undercut it. That’s not how labour hire normally works.
When I used to run a bar in Lakemba at the local bowling club, you’d get labour hire in when you had a big function or something like that, but they were always paid more because they didn’t have the security. In these industries. We’ve got this weird situation at the moment where labour hire is paid less. We’ve got to fix it.
STEFANOVIC: Alright, just finally, do you know who the Prime Minister met with to discuss Qatar?
BURKE: No, I don’t.
STEFANOVIC: Does anyone?
BURKE: But he’s made very clear it wasn’t anyone from Qantas. Made that very clear.
STEFANOVIC: Does anyone know who it was?
BURKE: I suspect the people on the phone call would have to, wouldn’t they?
STEFANOVIC: And him. Alright. Do you think it should be accountable?
BURKE: I think the thing that the Prime Minister’s been making really clear here is, one, we’ve got some of the most competitive aviation systems in the world.
STEFANOVIC: He just needs to make it clear who he met with.
BURKE: And, secondly, if anyone wanted to claim that there is some particular deal being done in favour of one particular Australian company, well, you’ve only got to look at the legislation that I introduced yesterday. That’s going to cost Qantas quite a bit of money. They’re one of the companies that use the labour hire loophole, we make decisions in the national interest.
STEFANOVIC: Oh, that’ll be good. They’ll just increase the airfares again. I mean, Tony. Hey, it’s been good to spar with you this morning, Tony, best of luck with it.
BURKE: I think they can afford to pay their workers more, great to talk to you Karl.
STEFANOVIC: That’s probably right. Thank you, mate. See you.