AARON STEVENS, HOST: Joining me on the phone right now is the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke. Good morning, Tony.
TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: G'day, Aaron.
STEVENS: Good to talk to you. If you believe everything you read in central Queensland, Same Job, Same Pay, is all doom and gloom.
BURKE: It's going to mean a whole lot of people in central Queensland get a pay rise. That's the difference. And this will be a huge investment in money in central Queensland for a whole lot of people who've been underpaid for way too long. All those labour hire workers who are doing the exact same job, completely embedded within the workforce, but because they've technically got a different employer and they're being paid in the order of up to $30,000 a year less, this legislation means over the course of next year, they'll find themselves getting pay rises of anything up to $30,000 a year. It's a huge win for the workers in Central Queensland, particularly in the coal industry.
STEVENS: So, why the concerns in the coal industry?
BURKE: Some of the employer organisations would rather not give the pay rise. That's just the reality. Some of the employers have been fighting and saying they don't want to pay this money, but ultimately it will have a minor hit on their profits. They can afford it. These companies are doing pretty well at the moment. It'll mean a tiny bit less in profits for executives or some of the shareholders in Sydney or Singapore, and that'll be because that money is going straight to workers in central Queensland. When someone's been getting away with an underpayment for a long time, they'd rather continue to get away with it. But I've got to say, when workers are doing the exact same job, same level of experience, they're embedded in the same teams, it's a pretty hard argument to say they shouldn't be getting the same amount of money in a country like Australia.
STEVENS: Government didn't get it all its own way with this legislation, though. There have been changes.
BURKE: Some of the issues we won't deal with until next year on some other things that I'm keen to do, like a better deal for casuals and things like that. One of the things that was changed was we made sure we took service contractors clearly out because there's a lot of service contracting businesses that are not labour-hire firms, where they're bringing in their own equipment, they're clearly running a service, trades, all that sort of thing. And for those, we made sure that they weren't going to be treated the same as labour hire companies.
But when it's labour hire, if I could explain how we got here. A business agrees in an enterprise agreement to what the minimum rates of pay will be for their workforce. Then there's been this technical legal loophole where you can say, "if someone comes from a labour hire firm, all the rates of pay we just agreed to don't apply because they're technically a different employer. So, all these rates we just agreed to for all these other workers, we just won't pay them that". That loophole has been going on for a lot of years now.
Both sides of politics, actually, including the local Member up there, Michelle Landry, have made statements saying how unfair this is. When it came to the vote, she didn't vote to fix it. That is what it is. But people, when they've looked at this for a long time, have said it's unfair, it needs to be fixed. Well, the Parliament last week changed the law to fix it, and it is hard to find a part of Australia where there will be more people getting pay rises as a result of this than central Queensland.
STEVENS: Will there be much of an impact on labour hire companies? I mean, surely, they're going to say, “Well, why am I employing from labour hire companies now?”
BURKE: It always used to be the situation that you'd use labour hire for a surge workforce. You'd use labour hire for specialty skills. I mean, years ago, there was a time when I was running the staff at a bar at a local club, and we only had a couple of people on the books. And so, when we had to hold a function or something, you'd use labour hire and the labour-hire workers were all paid more because they didn't have any of the job security. That's a proper use of labour-hire.
It's something very particular to some parts of the coal industry and to aviation companies like Qantas, for example. It's this very unusual thing where labour hire has started to be used as a way of paying people less, not more. And so, you end up with this really weird situation where your labour hire worker will be a casual being paid, a casual loading, and yet they're still getting a lower hourly rate, even with the loading, than the workers they're working side by side with who are permanents with leave entitlements. So, it always had to be fixed.
But, you give people a pay rise, the people who are paying it are going to complain. But I've got to say they've got away with a loophole for a very long time. There are legitimate uses for labour hire. They're all still there. But the use of labour hire should never be as a way of undercutting rates of pay that have been agreed to.
STEVENS: So, mines aren't going to start shutting down because of this legislation?
BURKE: No. They're all way too profitable. Way too profitable. But there'll be a little bit of shift of where the funds go – a little bit less to the executives and the shareholders in favour of the workers being paid properly. No one should be afraid of that. The big winners in that are the workers themselves and the parts of Australia where they live, and that goes very directly to your listeners.
STEVENS: Good to hear you clear that up for us. Tony, thanks for your time this morning.
BURKE: Thanks for the chance, Aaron. See you.
STEVENS: Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.