Labor’s same-job, same-pay in labour hire and wage theft legislation will pass parliament on Thursday after a deal with senators David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie.
On Thursday the workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, declared it was a “great day for workers’ wages and safety”, with a majority of the Senate set to agree to key measures of the closing loopholes bill including on industrial manslaughter and provisions to help first responders.
Although the deal is likely to blunt a fierce employer campaign against the same-job, same-pay provisions, splitting the bill will mean that reforms to the gig economy, road transport industry and casual work will have to wait until 2024.
The Greens, who have won criminalisation of super theft in the first tranche of the bill, announced they will approve the deal but continue to fight for a right to disconnect from work by not answering phone calls and emails out of hours when the second bill comes to parliament.
Under changes negotiated with Pocock and Lambie the government will:
Reverse the onus of proof for first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder to improve access to work health and safety supports, including for members of the Australian Border Force
Enact new guidelines on independent medical assessments for workers
Initiate a comprehensive independent review of Comcare
The government has also agreed with Lambie to boost funding for the small business advisory service within the Fair Work ombudsman.
Burke first introduced the closing loopholes bill in September, prompting backlash over a possible increase in consumer prices for gig economy services and employer concern about the same-job, same-pay provisions. Those require labour hire workers to be paid the same as those directly employed on a workplace pay deal.
Burke was able to weaken employer opposition, winning support from the Australian Hotels Association and the Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association, the latter by excluding services contractors from same-job, same-pay.
On Thursday Burke told reporters in Canberra that “a whole lot of people who are being underpaid” needed parliament to “decide that it’s time for them to get a pay rise and all of that can be done today”.
Burke, who stared down an earlier attempt by Pocock and Lambie to split the bill, seemed relaxed about delaying gig economy and casuals changes until 2024, declaring he was “even more optimistic about those remaining provisions, because of the goodwill that we’re showing today”.
Lambie told reporters she approved the deal because she had “had a gutful” of big businesses making “massive profits” while workers such as flight attendants and miners earn up to $30,000 less a year because they were employed by a labour hire company or a separate corporate entity.
Pocock said there was “consensus over some” of the remaining elements, including the gig economy and casuals, which he labelled “incredibly important” but details would have to be resolved in the new year.
In the Senate, the shadow workplace relations minister, Michaelia Cash, complained that the government had cut a deal before the bill could be properly scrutinised by an inquiry, which will report back in February 2024.
Cash accused Labor of having delivered for unions “who stand for themselves”, arguing that employees were a “casualty” of the deal.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Sally McManus, said: “The Australian public understand that this legislation delivers better rights for workers which deliver better wages during the cost of living crisis.
“The companies that will be crying loudest about these changes are some of Australia’s biggest and most profitable.
“Mining companies such as Gina Rinehart’s or Qantas, whose CEOs are receiving huge bonuses, they don’t feel the hardships many Australians are feeling right now.”
The Greens senator Barbara Pocock said “there are wins for workers here, including the criminalising of wage and super theft which the Greens secured”.