16th March 2021 INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2021
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (15:39:339:): I rise to also put forward my contribution on the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2021, and I thank the Treasurer in his capacity as the Minister for Industrial Relations for bringing this bill before us because it does go to our constant effort to protect the rights and the ability of every worker to just get treated fairly. It is a fairly simple concept but something that we continue to work on, and this bill, although rather technical in nature, definitely contributes to that.
This year, obviously with the pandemic over the last 12 months, has shone a bright light, as my colleagues have stated, on some of the cracks in our industrial relations frameworks—just the fact that more often being in insecure work, especially over the last 12 months, gives people rise to make choices about whether they will potentially turn up to work sick in order to put food on the table or potentially stay home and benefit others. That is a very difficult choice for a lot of Victorians.
This government, however, will continue to lead the way in developing initiatives to protect workers. This bill will allow us to continue to grow and strengthen our industrial sector, supporting a strong economic recovery. We are at the beginnings of it, but I think the signs early on are very good. It just shows the strength and the dedication from the Premier and the whole government. Our jobs plan, which was announced in 2020–21, does show just that, ensuring not only a job but certainty and security for Victorians and families.
We are talking about labour hire in this bill and strengthening some of the protections for workers, but I just want to add in my own experiences from labour hire. Over the years I have had experiences on both sides of that equation. Early in my career in IT I did a lot of contract work. You would go through personnel companies—labour hire companies, effectively—and work three months here, three months there. That is why I wanted to do it; for me it was a way of doing a bit of that and doing a bit of music. I thought I was going to be a rockstar. Obviously that did not work out. That is probably a good thing for everyone. But it was good work, and for me it was okay. I could get the work; that was good. Those opportunities are still available.
When I was running my own business I had limited-time projects. We would get a project with a client; it would be a three-month or a six-month project. You would have a bit of work, and given the nature of a very small IT firm you would find someone to fill that gap. You would use them for as long as you could, and you would pay them the appropriate rates and give them work. Everyone wins—at least that was the plan. I and my business partner made the decision over the last number of years that when we needed to use contracted labour or labour hire we would try to get some graduates who otherwise had not got a leg up. Over the last couple of years—before I was here, obviously—I think there were two particular workers who come to mind that we employed. Both of these guys had been out of work since uni for about 12 to 18 months. They just could not get that first foot in the door. They worked with us for about three to six months on different occasions; both of them got a job. So labour hire can work for people, but obviously both of these young people wanted secure work. They wanted permanent work. That should be a no-brainer.
A bill like this, strengthening protections for labour hire, is very timely in a year when insecure work has had that shining light on it. I note also in today’s news that there has been a decision by HungryPanda, one of the gig tech companies. Two drivers who took it to HungryPanda have won their jobs back after being treated unfairly. They struck a deal with the company. So that is good news that we have gig tech companies coming to the party, but it is only a start.
What concerns me—I will give you a hypothetical. Obviously with a tech background I can imagine the uses of the internet. We all know Uber and other companies who provide mostly transport at this time. And just on the HungryPanda thing, a big shout-out to Transport Workers Union Australia, Michael Kaine and the team there and also to TWU Victoria, John Berger and his whole team, who are doing a lot of work for our drivers. But I also want to say to everyone else in every other industry: if you can get accreditation for your work—whether that be a certificate III, a diploma or in-house skills—get something that says you are accredited for this. We already know labour hire companies now will shuffle people in and out in security, hospitality and a whole heap of industries. I think with the work that this government is doing we are trying to rein that in so that the dodgy operators are prevented from doing that. That work will continue—I have no doubts.
But think of it this way: the gig tech companies currently take a driver and make them an entrepreneur. Some of them might do well, but some of them do not, and there is a lack of protection there. I just ask you to consider: what if the next Uber or Deliveroo—whatever they are—is shop assistants at supermarkets? What if the next one is nurses? What if the next one is waitstaff or security guards? I would say to the labour hire companies, especially the good ones—and I have dealt with good ones; they are out there and they are probably the majority—be aware, be on our side. If we protect workers and we make this industry work and it is a win-win all round, then this is a good thing. If we let this go rampant—and I am concerned about the federal industrial relations laws that are being debated at the moment—it will not just be logistics and transport where everyone is turned into an entrepreneur; it will be everyone else, and the middle people will be taken out of it because the big tech, the big corporations, can make more money that way.
Now, I have got no problem with people making money—I am all for businesses being profitable—but we have got to add to society. Businesses have to have that social construct, that social agreement, with all of us. We all have a duty—that is employees, employers, big corporates, small businesses—to add to our society. I am concerned—and I do not think I am alone—with the way our gig economy is being exploited. As I said, lots of people in the creative industries were back in the day, and still now are, used to gigs. They are used to turning up, getting a little bit of money and not knowing where the next job is going to be. A lot of creative people just accept it. Now we are seeing that transport is another industry where that is at danger of being accepted. I commend the work that the TWU is doing to prevent that from happening. I commend the work that this government and the Treasurer are doing to prevent that from happening. I will stand with them, as I know all of my colleagues on this side will, to protect every worker in this state. That is why I commend this bill to the house.