Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda, Sky News

01 September 2023

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda, Sky News
Speakers: Laura Jayes, host, AM Agenda; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Gig economy; industrial relations; Same Job, Same Pay; productivity; casual employment


Laura Jayes, host, AM Agenda: Jennifer Westacott is the Business Council Chief Executive. Jennifer great to see you. First of all, can I get to this consultation, because the whole job of government is to consult on laws that will change the face of how our society works and business. So, talk to me about these non-disclosure agreements? I have never heard of this happening in the consultation process before.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: These are not uncommon in government. There's an instrument called the coil which is a body that looks at the draft legislation and people who are part of that sign the non-disclosure agreement, I don't participate in that. So, it's not uncommon to do it, I think the issue is this. The government started off pretty well with this process, they put some discussion papers out, they didn't cover everything. But then we went into this process of confidential conversations. And we'll come back to that, because all of that is bad. What we wanted though, Laura, was before we went into legislation, which is fundamentally technical, we wanted to see something in the public domain that brought it all together. That allowed everyone to see how it was all going to operate as a package and we're not going to see that. We're going to see on Monday, the legislation come in, and legislation, as I said, is highly technical. I mean, to be fair not everything can be done in the public domain because it just turns into a media shouting match and that's not going to get results. And to be fair, again, I think we'll see on Monday, hopefully, that the government is listening to people's extreme concerns. What I still think we will see on Monday though is a package that's unworkable. And that's the point we made yesterday, that when we look across what's in the public domain, when we look at what the minister said yesterday. Which was very selective snippets of information. We will see something that is unworkable, that is fundamentally flawed. It's going to add to cost, add to complexity, make it harder to get casual work, make it harder to employ people. And at a time when you're dealing with this cost of living crisis that is hitting every Australian, why would you do something as risky as this? So, we are hoping that when the legislation is introduced on Monday, and I'm happy to come back on Tuesday and talk about what's in it. We are hoping that the government also releases analysis, evidence, modeling, how much is this going to cost? How are we going to mitigate the risks? How's it going to work in practice? Because good public policy, and the minister called for a good IR discussion. Well that's fine. We want that too. But good public policy is based on evidence. It's based on making sure that this kind of rorts is issue, well, what rorts? How many people? How widespread is that? So it works both ways. You've got to have, we want to see some evidence. We want to see how widespread this was. And we want to see unambiguously that these very radical reforms are going to address the problems that they are meant to address versus solving other issues like union coverage and so on.

Laura: So it's so what's the biggest risk here? Because it would seem to me that it doesn't address what is the biggest problem at the moment and that is productivity.

Jennifer: Absolutely, absolutely. So let's kind of go back to basics on productivity, because it's a word that gets misunderstood and misused. So fundamentally, productivity is about creating more value by doing things differently, by adding value to things by using technology, by training people better. Expanding your operations, getting into new markets, and then being able to share the benefits of that through better pay and better conditions through an enterprise agreement system. That's fundamentally what it is. Now you achieve productivity mostly at a workplace, that is people working together, how are we going to solve X, Y, and Z and then sharing those benefits. So, these collective proposals ,and on top of the multi employer stuff that was introduced last year, we think will stifle productivity, they will stifle that collaboration. And let me go to two particular things or three particular things that will be in this legislation on Monday. The first is casuals. Now, casuals are a crucial part of our economy, they are a crucial option for people, a lot of people elect to work casually. At the moment, If I'm a casual worker, after 12 months, the employer is obliged to offer you permanent part-time work. Now very few people have taken that up. What we're going to go to is we're going to go back to the definition that existed before a High Court decision had to clear it up. Where if you've got a formal commitment of hours, you are not a casual. Now let's just think about what that means. So, if I have agreed with my employer that I'm going to work in the pub on a Friday night for a couple of hours because that works for me. Because I have kids or I am studying. That forward commitment, you will no longer be a casual, classified as a causal worker. If I'm doing six hours on a Saturday at the Supermarket, because I've got the kids during the week, but that's every Saturday. That's a forward commitment. So, what that means is. Now the minister says, well, this will be voluntary. But the reality is if you're the employer are you really seriously going to offer people that predictability? The thing I'm worried about, which no one is talking about, is that we're actually going to actively discourage that predictable work. Which a lot of people want, again, what problem we try to solve. We're going to have two systems, one for six months, one for 12. And I just don't understand what we're trying to do with this important aspect of many people's working lives, particularly for small business. Many small businesses use a lot of casual work, and they use that casual work to flex up to meet peak demand. So again, that goes to productivity, which drives higher wages. And then you've got the Same Job, Same Pay, the labour hire stuff. People putting on labour hire for big infrastructure projects, in healthcare, we still don't have a clear definition of what the government is trying to solve for here. We make that harder, how's that going to add to cost? Things like experience, I get paid the same as you even though I've got 12 years of experience, what is that going to do for productivity and innovation? And then the whole gig economy stuff. Now, the minister spent a lot of time talking about this yesterday. Of course there should be minimum standard for things like insurance and safety and things like that. But how far is that going to go? How a penalty rates going to work? How are we going to make sure that we don't make the system really rigid? Remembering that these apps have been developed every day. Is a tradie going to be counted if they're using a website to contact their bookings? Now, hopefully, some of this gets cleared up on Monday, I don't think it will though. So, a lot of stuff is going to go back into the Fair Work Commission. What does that mean for productivity? Everything slows down. I know that is a long answer to your question but this is really important, this stuff. The devil is in the detail. We'll see it on Monday. And I think this is going to start to put a lot of friction in the system. It's going to make it harder to employ people and that's bad for productivity. It's bad for wages.

Laura: Yeah, it seems like there's a lot of unintended consequences, or you'd hope they’re unintended. But we will pull through the detail on Monday and we'll take you up on that offer to speak to you again on Tuesday. You are right that devil will be in the detail there. Before I let you go, Jennifer, I know that Qantas is a member of the BCA. Look, it's hard to know where to start with Qantas at the moment, but they're certainly not capturing the imaginations of Australians in a good way at the moment. How worrying is this ACCC court case? It's unprecedented, isn't it?

Jennifer: Look, I can't comment on a court case. I think it would be really inappropriate to comment on that. But I do think we have to remember that this is still one of Australia's really important companies. It's survived a very competitive industry for a very long time. But I'm not going to comment on the court cases.

Laura: Fair enough. Jennifer Westacott great to see you as always. Good to have you on the program.


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