Interview - Sky News Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Uber has struck a landmark deal with the Transport Workers Union in an agreement promising to frame the future of the gig economy. The deal binds the US company to back more regulation improving workers’ rights, in particular regulation requiring the industry to pay minimum wage and allow appeals for unfair dismissal. At this stage, the deal includes only broad principles and commitment to future talks. The union has been calling for improved conditions for contractors who currently have no claim to compensation, superannuation or minimum wage. Let’s go live now to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke. Minister, thank you very much for your time.
TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: G’day, Kieran.
GILBERT: What's your reaction to this deal between two unlikely partners, you'd have to say?
BURKE: Fair to say, I'm really happy about it. I'm really happy for the TWU and for Uber and what they've been able to deliver together here. And it brings the lie to what the previous government had said for years, where they just said, oh, it was too complicated to be able to guarantee that workers have minimum standards. Even in the prime ministerial debates, the previous Prime Minister, when Anthony Albanese as Opposition Leader, only had two questions he was allowed to ask under the rules of one those debates, and he devoted one of them to this. Should every Australian worker be paid at least the minimum wage? And the previous government maintained this fiction that we were talking about small business people here.
Now, I grew up in a small business family. I've run my own small business. I know what it is to run a small business The person on a bicycle racing through the traffic to deliver some fast food to your front doorstep is not running a small business. They have none of that independence or power. And to think that it was going to be okay for their rights to fall off a cliff was never sustainable. What this agreement does now is effectively pave the way for the policy that we took to the election to allow the Fair Work Commission to regulate for people who are not strictly employees but are employee-like in so many ways.
GILBERT: So how crucial is that regulatory piece here? Because while it seems to me great that Uber does- is reaching out and wanting to do the right thing in this deal with the union, there's nothing stopping others coming in and undercutting them. So the regulation remains crucial, doesn't it?
BURKE: Yeah, that's right. And that's why the regulation is completely essential here. Let's imagine a world where, you know, there's a similar agreement with DoorDash. Let's imagine that DoorDash and Uber, with their agreements with the TWU, put in minimum standards. What happens then if a Deliveroo or a HungryPanda or one of the other companies just undercuts it, and the market share shifts, and then we're back to where we started? So what we need to make this agreement real- and, you know, Menulog had tried an employment model. I'm not sure where they're at the moment on that. But what we need is some minimum standards put in place by the Fair Work Commission to make sure that good employers or good platform providers aren't just undercut by rogue businesses out there. So we've got a step in the right direction, but it is only sustainable if we then take the next step and legislate for the Fair Work Commission to be able to put down some minimum standards.
GILBERT: Everyone enjoys the flexibility of these platforms, but the other thing here is…
BURKE: Yeah, I use it.
GILBERT: …in this deal announced today which I like to see, is the company say; we want to talk about this idea of de-platforming workers and giving some of the workers a bit more certainty if they are just removed from the platform upon which they earn their living. And at the moment, there's not much they can do about it. What can be done to give them that protection?
BURKE: Well, this’d be where you had an effective form of unfair dismissal as part of your employee-like provisions. So what happens at the moment- and I've had riders, for example, tell me this exact story as to why they ride dangerously, because they've said to me if they don't run the red light, if they don't form an extra lane between the lanes of traffic, then they run the risk that they won't stay on the platform, they won't get the future work. And if they complain, then they can just be taken off altogether and they have no recourse, because at the moment it's just a contract-to-contract engagement.
Now, if you don't give them some rights, your safety on the road becomes a really direct problem. And there is a direct line between lousy standards of work and people dying. It's a direct line of connection. Now, while we all love the flexibility that these platforms provide us for our own convenience, we don't want to become the sort of country where workers aren't safe or where workers aren't paid minimum standards. So this agreement provides an architecture that is really close to what the Labor Government, the Albanese Labor Government, took to the last election. I've started work with the department on how we design this, how we put it into legislation, and that is what will make this real. You'll get your standards. You'll have protections for people. And we'll still, as consumers, get the flexibility that people want in being able to use the services. It's not about winding the clock backwards; it's just about making sure that 21st century technology doesn't mean 19th century working conditions.
GILBERT: It's been a busy month on a few different fronts -
BURKE: Sure has.
GILBERT: Yeah. Well, you inherited a proposal, now being implemented, but it's a multi-billion-dollar change to what was known as the Jobactive approach. And for our viewers who might not be au fait with it; basically for unemployed, they had to do, I think, 20 interviews per month to keep the unemployment benefit or something to that effect. Now you've got a points system which I've just been reading through, which aims to give the unemployed more flexibility. Is that right?
BURKE: Yeah. So as you said at the start, $7 billion worth of contracts had all been concluded just before the previous government went into caretaker. So I've been working through, okay, how can we make this the best possible system given that, you know, the contracts have been signed, the $7 billion had already been legally committed. The old system had huge problems. And you ask anyone who's an employer, even myself, I've seen them when I've had positions vacant. You get a series of job applications where clearly people are ticking boxes because they have to be applying for jobs. And people- you know, it has driven employers spare in many ways and a lot of that hasn't actually helped people get into work. So what we are wanting to do is to have a system where we are in fact asking people, as part of mutual obligation, to do things that help them get placed in jobs. So for some people that might be getting a forklift licence. For other people that might be getting a driver's licence for others, it'll be doing an English language course. There'll be a series of different courses or training that'll help. For some people, it'll be participating in Work for the Dole. but the concept is that we properly acknowledge what people are doing, and make that count so that we no longer have this ridiculous situation as though firing off 20 applications, whether they were appropriate or not, is the be all and end all. It's only a good system if we're using it to get people into work, and that's what I've changed with it.
GILBERT: And things like counselling here, Defence Force reserves also in the mix as well, which might be a nice way for a young person to move into Defence Force work further to that. But I guess things like counselling makes sense if the department allows that and if the Government allows that because if someone's struggling to get their head right to get into the workforce, well that's probably a good place to start.
BURKE: Yeah. We need to remember, at a time where unemployment is really low, the people who are in the current caseload disproportionately - not everybody, but disproportionately, we have a high proportion of people who are long term unemployed, and a lot of these individuals have had a series of other challenges in their lives that that have made it difficult for them to get back into the workforce. Now, 20 applications a month is not going to cut it. You know, they've been doing that for years. That clearly isn't the fix. And one of the problems with the way the previous government had done the point system, for example, if you were doing one of these courses where you know your long term unemployed, we want you to be trained up to get you into a job, and then you get a job interview midway through the course. Well, then you've got to go turn up to the job interview, that then means you haven't got the qualification that you've just spent the best part of a month training for, and you end up not getting the job anyway. And we're back where we started. And then you start the course again the following month.
So we're trying to take a much more strategic approach here. The objective is not to be punitive here. The objective is to look at people's circumstances and say, okay, what help do you need to be able to make the transition from being unemployed to finding your way to a workforce- to the workplace again. And that's why if you look at the different points, the thing that gets the most points, it's worth 50, is turning up for your first shift. Like, for someone who's been long, long term unemployed, getting through the application, through the training, through the job interview, and getting to that point where you're turning up for your first shift - that's a big step. We want that to be acknowledged, that to be rewarded. And hopefully out of this, we start to find a better pathway for people who've been out of the job market for a long time. And there's no better time to try to make this transition for people than at a time when unemployment is low.
GILBERT: Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke. Appreciate your time as always. Thanks.
BURKE: Great to talk to you. Thanks, Kieran.