Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox has urged the government to move forward in reforming existing workplace relations laws, but says the rise of gig economy jobs should not be the priority rationale.
Mr Willox acknowledged that while the nature of work is changing as a result of technology, it was not the primary reason why the Fair Work laws needed to be amended, the position pushed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus.
“The ACTU is arguing that the ‘gig economy’ justifies new labour laws,” he said, speaking at the Brisbane Club on Tuesday.
“It is true that the nature of work is changing in the Australian and global economies as new technologies and new ways of working evolve,” Mr Willox said.
“However, the number of people who carry out work through Uber, Airtasker, Foodora and other ‘gig economy’ businesses is a tiny fraction of the workforce – much less than 1 per cent,” he said.
“Also, over the years ahead, the current wave of digitalisation technologies is likely to prove to be no different to previous technological transitions.”
“While it will generate some disruption, if accompanied with appropriate investments in the development of workforce skills and management capabilities and if the process of adaptation is not constrained by excessive regulation, it will bring far greater rewards, considerable opportunities and benefits to the broader community in the longer term, in the form of higher standards of living, more challenging jobs, higher incomes and greater productivity.”
Workplace and Deregulation minister Craig Laundy agreed that the gig economy was still in its infancy and imposing policy around it now could potentially deter growth for the sector.
“Less than 1 per cent of adult Australians use the gig economy to obtain work on a regular basis. In September 2017, the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia estimated that approximately 100,000 people — or 0.8 per cent of the workforce — use digital platforms to obtain work on a regular basis,” Mr Laundy told InnovationAus.com.
“While the government recognises how important it is to protect people from exploitation, it is also important that we do not stifle new technology-based business models by rushing in with unnecessary regulation and red tape,” he said.
During his speech, Mr Willox attacked the ACTU for “opportunistically using the public policy debate about the future of work as a vehicle to argue for more restrictions to be imposed on all businesses.”
Instead, said Fair Work reforms were needed to encourage increased productivity and competitiveness.
The call for change comes three years since the Productivity Commission completed its inquiry to examine the performance of the existing workplace relations framework. However, since the inquiry, the report has been left to gather dust.
“I should have been a little more up-beat three years ago given the current dismal state of Australia’s public policy debate about workplace relations, and how much more frustrated employers have become about the lack of action from our Parliamentarians on changes to drive increased productivity and competitiveness,” Mr Willox said.
Nonetheless, Mr Laundy reassured that the government was still “committed to making sensible and practical reforms”, pointing to a list of changes it has made to do date including establishing the Registered Organisations Commission to “ensure greater transparency and oversight of employer bodies and unions” and introducing the corrupting benefits legislation to outlaw corrupt and illegitimate payments.