The Business Council of Australia is committed to policies that foster productivity and competitiveness and deliver shared prosperity. Access for all Australians to secure income and employment opportunities is fundamental to that aspiration.
This supplementary submission to the Review of the Fair Work Act looks at the drivers and consequences of growth in alternative working arrangements in Australia over recent decades. The primary submission recommended a number of changes to the Act.
The proportion of working-age Australians in work has increased strongly over recent decades and is currently near a record high. This has occurred against the backdrop of growing utilisation of non-standard working hours and arrangements, which have evolved to meet changing business needs and more diverse employee preferences.
While some contend that more people in part-time and casual jobs or working as independent contractors implies greater employment insecurity, there is little evidence to support this claim.
The rapid growth in part-time employment has both driven and enabled increased workforce participation by women, people with caring responsibilities and others whose circumstances make it impossible for them to pursue full-time work.
The profound changes that have occurred in Australian society and in the nation’s economic circumstances over recent decades have altered not only the nature and composition of the workforce but also the culture of workplaces and the nature and range of working hours and arrangements.
The greater flexibility observed in the Australian labour market today has been beneficial for most Australians and represents a major competitive strength for Australia relative to many other developed economies.
Any attempt to restrict access to alternative working arrangements, mandate minimum engagement periods, treat genuine contractors as if they were employees, or extend to casual workers terms and conditions designed for ongoing, full-time employment would be counterproductive to the objective of improving employment security.
Such regulations would further marginalise people who are already relatively disadvantaged in the labour market, making them even more uncompetitive.
While workplace regulation should continue to provide protection against unreasonable or unfair working conditions, when it comes to addressing the needs of those most disadvantaged in the labour market – including older workers, people with disabilities, carers and many Indigenous Australians – more regulation is not the answer.