Time to close the loopholes on labour hire, wage theft and more!

The Albanese Government is currently trying to close the loopholes in our workplace laws that allow businesses to exploit workers and undercut wages, job security, working conditions and safety. Key inclusions in the proposed laws are tackling the exploitation of labour hire, wage theft, industrial manslaughter, scam contracting, eradicating dangerous silica products, protecting delegates and fighting mass casualisation. It is a Bill that will have a direct impact on thousands of ETU and CEPU members once it is passed.

To pass the laws, named the ‘Closing the Loopholes Bill’, the Federal Labour Government needs the support of crossbench senators. The union movement is coming together to share workers’ stories with political representatives on just why this Bill is so necessary, and why we can’t wait any longer for these problems to be kicked down the road. The Bill must be passed now without delay.

This Bill is the third tranche of industrial relations reform the government is trying to introduce and is the most significant piece of legislation that will help drive up wages, improve job security and empower workers. Tranche one was passed in 2022 and tranche two was passed in June 2023. Read about what those laws included.

Closing the Loopholes Bill (highlights for ETU members)

In its initial form, highlights of the Bill most likely to affect ETU members include: 

Ensuring employers can’t avoid their enterprise agreement obligations by engaging labour hire workers (same job, same pay principles). Mass use of labour hire is a widespread problem in our industries. It undermines all our hard-fought gains in wages and conditions won over decades of solidarity and industrial action.

Redefining casual employment so that employees who work regular, systematic hours can more easily convert to permanent roles. 

Inserting definitions of employee and employer into the Act to make it more difficult for employers to avoid their obligations to pay sick leave, annual leave and superannuation by purporting to engage ‘independent contractors’. 

Enshrining rights of workplace delegates in the Fair Work Act like paid time to attend training and reasonable time and facilities in the workplace to communicate with employees. 

Bringing in national industrial manslaughter laws, so your employer could be jailed or get a much higher fine than before if they are responsible for a worker dying on the job. 

Taking steps towards eradicating the use of dangerous silica products, similar to the ban on asbestos. 

Criminalising wage theft and increasing fines for employers underpaying staff. 

Improving unions’ right to access workplaces to investigate suspected wage underpayments. 

What about apprentices?

ETU apprentice Noah knows what a difference Same Job, Same Pay laws would make as part of the Albanese Govt’s Closing the Loopholes Bill, however the Bill currently doesn’t include apprentices in those laws, so unions are seeking an amendment to protect apprentices as well as tradespeople.

Currently employed by a group training organisation (GTO), Noah gets paid just a percentage of the award, and struggles to pay for rent, petrol and food each week. If there’s an EBA on site, even if the tradespeople get paid EBA rates, he won’t see any increase through the GTO.

We’re seeking an amendment so that apprentices are also protected by the proposed changes. They should receive the same pay as apprentices on EBA rates when working side by side with them on the same job.

The poor completion rate of electrical apprentices casts a huge cloud over our ability to meet the energy transition workload coming our way. An extensive survey run by the ETU last year showed that almost half of apprentices don’t complete their apprenticeship, and a top reason is because the wages are too low to live on.

It’s time for the loopholes to close. The whole government must support workers and pass the Closing the Loopholes Bill. Workers have waited long enough, and every day that this Bill doesn’t go through, is adding to lost wages and substandard conditions faced by our members.

To be clear, these changes still do not go far enough in evening up the scales between bosses and workers, but it is the first time in a long  time that our workplace laws have been getting better, and it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

This article was publised on 29 November 2023.