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Mounting pushback against Fair Work Bill changes

Master Builders Australia and other industry bodies say the proposed changes to Fair Work legislation, designed to close loopholes in current employment law, threaten the industry

Master Builders Australia has used its submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee Closing Loopholes Bill 2023 inquiry to provide a warning on what it says would be serious and damaging consequences for the building and construction industry.

The Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 would amend the Fair Work Act 2009 across a range of areas, including pay for casual work and worker rights. The Bill proposes to remove a labour hire ‘loophole’ by allowing the Fair Work Commission to make ‘regulated labour hire arrangement orders’ which would direct a labour hire employer to pay its employees the same rate as they would be paid under the host employer’s enterprise agreement if they were hired directly by the employer.

“Make no mistake, this Bill is not about closing loopholes and is littered with far-reaching implications that go well beyond the government’s election commitments,” Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn says.

“Master Builders rejects the Bill in its entirety. The majority of the amendments will negatively impact the over 440,000 businesses that operate in building and construction and the 1.3 million people they employ.”

Master Builders Australia says that it does support non-contentious changes to the asbestos safety and eradication agency, strengthening protections against discrimination, support for first responders and the small business redundancy exemption.

However, it says the Bill as it stands would negatively impact the building and construction industry by threatening independent contracting and subcontracting. It says the changes would increase building costs and create uncertainty around how unfair contracts are treated.

“The government has not made a case for these changes. They have not explained how these laws will lift wages, boost productivity or make it easier to create more jobs,” Dawn says.

“The proposed laws mean independent contractors won’t have the freedom to choose the hours they work, the projects they work on, or negotiate their own fees and conditions.”

HIA and Business Council of Australia

The Housing Industry Association, and the Business Council of Australia have also opposed the Bill in their submissions, with similar concerns around the stifling of competition, expansion of union rights, the expanded jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission and the increasing regulatory burden on small businesses.

“The reliance on the use of subcontractors in the residential building industry, in particular the detached housing and renovation markets, is unique,” HIA states.

“The flexibility of the subcontract system and the highly competitive nature of the residential building industry have interacted to secure a high degree of efficiency and productivity for many decades.

“HIA submits that the residential building industry relies on a cohort of casual employees to respond to the cyclical nature of the sector as such, conditions seen to encourage and facilitate the engagement of casual labour are considered necessary. HIA is concerned that what is proposed will simply lead to the opposite and discourage the engagement of casual workers.”

The Senate’s Education and Employment Legislation Committee is scheduled to table its report by 1 February 2024.

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