Brighter outlook for wages, job security
Millions of Australians on low wages may be in line for a substantial pay rise under the Albanese government, which also advocates “job security” for gig economy, labour hire and casual workers.
During the election campaign, Anthony Albanese backed the idea of a sizeable increase in the minimum wage.
He said his government would ask the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to lift the minimum wage – currently $20.33 an hour – by 5.1 per cent to keep up with inflation.
“I don’t want people to be left behind. People are doing it really tough – the cost of living, the cost of everything is going up but their wages aren’t,” he said during the campaign.
A 5.1 per cent increase is close to the 5.5 per cent being sought by the ACTU in the current FWC annual minimum wage review. The Reserve Bank predicts inflation will reach 5.5 per cent by mid-year.
Wages of many workers went backwards under the Morrison government. The cost of living jumped by 3.5 per cent over the last 12 months, while wages increased by just 2.3 per cent.
Along with higher minimum wages, “job security” is a major feature of ALP policy.
When Fair Work legislation was originally drafted over a decade ago, it did not foresee the emergence or growth of new forms of insecure work, like so-called gig work.
The ALP promises to make secure work an objective of the Fair Work Act and extend the powers of the FWC to include the gig economy and other “employee-like” forms of work.
According to Labor, this means the FWC would have to put job security “at the heart of its decision-making”. And it will have the power to make orders for minimum standards for new forms of work.
Women are disproportionately impacted by insecure work. Labor points out that nearly as many women as men work in Australia, but women are over-represented in casual and part-time work and low-paid jobs.
Standing up for casuals
The Morrison government changed the Fair Work Act to give employers the right to define someone as a casual, even if they work regular, predictable hours.
The ALP says this gives a green light to casualisation and makes the problem of insecure work worse.
Labor will amend this definition and legislate a “fair and objective” test to determine when a worker can be classified as casual, so people have a clearer pathway to permanent work.
Same job, same pay
Labor says it will uphold the principle that if you work the same job, you should get the same pay.
It will therefore ensure that workers employed through labour hire companies receive no less than workers employed directly.
This is designed to stop companies deliberately using labour hire to undercut the negotiated pay and conditions of workers who are direct employees.
Over the last eight years under the Liberals and Nationals, labour hire, outsourcing and back-to-back fixed-term contracts have become commonplace in the public sector.
Labor pledges to only use non-permanent employment “where it is essential”, and not as a way of simply minimising its permanent workforce numbers.
Making wage theft a crime
Wage theft is the deliberate underpayment or non-payment of workers’ legal entitlements and it has reached “epidemic proportions”, Labor says.
A 2019 report estimated that the underpayment of Australian workers’ entitlements was worth $1.35 billion per year.
Wage theft appears across a broad range of industries and disproportionately impacts young people, overseas students, migrant workers and women.
During the election campaign the ALP promised to legislate to make wage theft a criminal offence.
Australia has 85,000 fewer apprenticeships and traineeships today compared to 2013, when the Liberal/Nationals last took office.
Labor promises to boost skills training and revitalise the run-down TAFE system.
Labor will spend $621 million over four years to provide free TAFE courses. There will be 465,000 fee-free TAFE places for students studying in industries with a skills shortage, including 45,000 new places.
Under the Labor plan, “anyone pursuing a TAFE course that is on the National Skills Commission’s priority list will do it for free,” said ALP deputy leader Richard Marles.
This includes jobs in the “care economy” such as childcare, aged care, disability care, nursing and community services.
Fee-Free TAFE will provide opportunities for school leavers, workers wanting to retrain or upskill, and unpaid carers – who are predominantly women –to get back into the workforce, Labor says.
Cheaper childcare on the way
With fees up 41 per cent under the Liberals, childcare is a major cost for working families.
An estimated 73,000 families want childcare but can’t afford it.
Labor promises to invest about $5.4 billion to make childcare cheaper.
Starting from July 2023, it will lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent for families for the first child in care and extend the increased subsidy to outside school hours care.
It says 96 per cent of families will be better off under the ALP scheme and no family will be worse off.