McManus on gig economy problems

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James Riley

ACTU chief Sally McManus has logged a claim for a big wage rise for Australian workers saying industrial relations law is a decade behind the gig economy and needs to be re-balanced in favour of lower income people and away from the “billionaire class”.

Speaking to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Ms McManus delivered a big spray over what she described as the “Americanisation” and casualisation of the local economy.

She said successive Coalition governments had tried to dismantle the “fair go” society.

Sally McManus: Railing against the Americanisation of work practices

“Years of Coalition governments adopting policies of unmitigated, oppressive neoliberalism, failed trickle down economics have pushed us down this dangerous path towards a different society, towards a heartache endured by millions of working poor in the US.

“In Australia we do not want and we will not accept the Americanisation of our working lives,” Ms MacManus said.

The world had changed in ways that no-one could have foreseen in the decade following the arrival of the Rudd Labor government and the nixing of the Howard government’s unloved Work Choices legislation.

While Labor had partially redressed Work Choices, industrial relations law was way behind the gig economy of today.

“Workplace laws written before Uber and written before the global financial crisis are not able to do the job of ensuring a fair go for working people today.

Ms McManus said that wealth and power shifted to the top during the years of the GFC.

“The workforce of today is vastly different to the workforce of ten years ago. Corporations have used their power to drive holes through our rights converting once steady jobs into insecure jobs, cutting and holding down wages.

“Technology has changed the workplace and the business model of the so-called gig economy sidesteps all the workers’ rights

“Delivery drivers using apps have less rights than workers a hundred years ago. Cleaners are told to get Australian Business Numbers, tradies jobs have been farmed out to labour hire, over half the academics in many of our ubniversities have no job security, multinationals use contracting out to force down wages and sidestep bargaining

“Company profits and CEO salaries are soaring, wages are flat-lining. This is inequality,” she said.

Last year a Senate investigation through the Education and Employment References Committee into the gig economy criticised services like Uber, Airtasker and Deliveroo for skirting around the Fair Work Act.

The report said the likes of Uber, Airtasker and Deliveroo mostly treated workers as independent contractors instead of employees which meant they were not covered by standard workplace protections such as insurance, superannuation, sick or holiday leave, or minimum hours or rates of pay.

Job board Airtasker did cut a deal with Unions NSW that saw it work to promote pay rates at or above minimum award rates, introduce disputes resolution through the Fair Work Commission and made an insurance product available that functions much like workers compensation.

“Workers rights have stayed still while the power of big business has got greater and their models have adapted and expanded in ways we could not have imagined.

“Our workplace laws must be changed to restore the fair go,” Ms McManus told the National Press Club.

The US was the poster child for low wages woe, she said with 70-year olds having to flip burgers at MacDonalds, school teachers needing a second job to survive and specially designed mattresses coming onto the market so that working poor could live in their cars.

“Inequality has exploded in the US, nearly doubling in the last forty years and since 1980, inequality in Australia has also nearly doubled.

“2017 saw the largest increase in wealth for billionaires since the start of the century. The top one percent in Australia now own more wealth than the bottom seventy percent combined.”

She said flatlining wages were hurting the greater economy and targeted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as having a tin ear for the problems arising from flatlining wages.

“Its outrageous that our Prime Minister does not know or does not care if working families are struggling. If the governor of the Reserve Bank thinks there’s a problem, if the head of the IMF thinks there’s a problem it’s bizarre that the Turnbull government refuses to see this as a problem

“You can’t sell goods and services if people don’t have money to spend. Australian workers can’t spend money they don’t have,” Ms McManus said.

The ACTU would push a “change the rules” campaign and demand equal rights for workers including casuals, labour hire and gig economy workers and push for more strident collective bargaining.

It would talk to all political parties in the coming Federal election tinged months to explain its agenda.

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