04 Aug 2017

SAM MAIDEN: We’re going to take you live now to the Labor frontbencher responsible for that policy, Brendan O’Connor, live from Adelaide, we thank you very much for joining us.
Now, what changes do you think need to be made to the Fair Work Act? You delivered a speech in Sydney earlier this week where you outlined the problem. What’s the response that needs to happen?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Look, I think, Sam, this is a debate to be had, not within the labour movement but within the country. We’re dealing with very significant changes to the labour market and there’s been growing inequality, we would contend, and there’s growing precarious employment.
Right now we see, of course, wage growth flat-lining. We’re seeing workers not getting a fair share of the dividend. That’s not just Labor saying that, Dr Lowe of the Reserve Bank has said that. The eminent economist Saul Eslake has said that. And so we believe we need to make sure that in this modern economy - in this globalized digitilised, knowledge-based economy - we need to have a set of laws that provide fairness as well as ensuring economic growth.
We are willing to engage - in fact want to engage - with business and unions to set the framework in place to deliver growth and to deliver fairness, and to redress inequality that we believe is increasing and needs to be redressed.

MAIDEN: (inaudible) protections that are in the National Employment Standards, particularly for casuals, either by reclassifying casuals, or by putting new protections in there. What is your view of that suggestion, to change the law in terms of the National Employment Standards?

O’CONNOR: Well I am always cautious about changing the NES, the National Employment Standards, but I am open to consideration of those matters. For example, at the last election we announced a change to the NES to put in 5 paid days Domestic Violence Leave into the Act. We also announced in the last election that we would look at redefining “Casual” so it was used for its original purpose, not broadened out for people to be working indefinitely – for years – on permanent rosters, and still not being considered permanent by the employer.
So that is one area. There are also a number of other areas that are important to Labor – Sham Contracting, the misuse of labour hire, and the bottom-feeder rogue labour hire companies that do the wrong thing. We have seen the 7-11 scandals, which of course have ripped off over $100 million just in that company alone from workers.
There is a lot to be done. I think one of the problems people have is that when we say we need to re-set the balance, people think we want to go back. It’s not about going back, Sam. It’s about recognizing that the labour market today does not look anything like the labour market of 30 years ago, and we need to have the laws that provide both sufficient capacity for business to thrive, but fairness for their workforce.

MAIDEN: Just finally though, what would you say to critics who say that Unions will be on the march under a Shorten Government. We’re seeing the mega merger of the CFMEU and the Maritime Union, and that this is a problem, that Unions will be reasserting their power in the workplace if a Shorten government is elected?

O’CONNOR: No I did see that, and I would ask that people who want to engage and certainly respond to me to read my speech. Insofar as that, industrial disputation is at its lowest in our history. We don’t want to see disputation in workplaces. We want to see cooperation, and we do want to see workers - whether they are in a Union or not - to have some capacity to bargain.
We saw Dr Lowe from the Reserve Bank say that workers probably need to ask for a pay rise given how flat their wages are. Well many workers Sam, as most people know, are not in a position to say “Can I have an increase?”
If you look at the cricket dispute, it is a classic. We are talking about elite sportspeople, who understood that the best thing for them to do is to collectively bargain to get an outcome. And if elite sportspeople know it is in their best interests, then people who are not so well placed must understand that it’s in their interest.
We just want to provide that facility in workplaces across Australia. We are not into seeing increases in disputation. We want to see co-operation and fairness and growth, and we’re willing to engage with the business community and the Unions to make sure that we get the right set of policies.

TOM CONNELL: Alright Brendan O’Connor thanks for that. We’ll watch how this debate goes.
I might just ask you very quickly actually if we’ve got time, Amazon’s coming to Australia, they’re talking about job creation. If you look at all the pictures, there’s a lot of machines there, is it going to create jobs or cost them?

O’CONNOR: You’ve opened that up and that’s another, obviously a longer conversation, but I mentioned that in the speech - that we need to deal with robotics and artificial intelligence, and indeed yes - how do we deal with competitors coming in that may well undermine domestic competitors.
Each and every case, I think, has to be considered on its merits. But we’re not just consumers - we have to remember that. If we don’t have good and stable jobs in our labour market, in our economy, and in our society, then we won’t be able to purchase the goods and services so readily. So there is that tension and I agree with you.
We need to look at, for example, something as almighty as that company, and say “what is the net benefit there? Are we just going to do things in order to ensure it’s good for consumers? We will recognise that in some instances that it is in the national interest to temper some of those arrangements in order to ensure that our own domestic businesses are well placed?”
It’s not an easy area to resolve, but we do have to have a critical view to do these things. I am very happy to talk more broadly about that another time. I know that we’ve run out of time.

CONNELL: Yes it sounds like a topic for another day. There’s a lot to talk about- the gig economy, Uber and so on so we’ll touch on that next time. Thank you for that. Labor front bencher, Brendan O’Connor, that’s it for the program

We'll Put People First.