Australia’s business community has launched a collective campaign opposing the “same job, same pay” reforms proposed by the Albanese government.
Representing various sectors, including small businesses, builders, farmers, the recruitment industry, minerals and gas sectors, the Business Council of Australia, and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, these employer groups have joined forces in expressing their concerns.
The Labor party made a pre-election promise to enact legislation ensuring that labor hire workers receive equal pay for performing the same job as employees within their businesses. The implementation of this reform is targeted for the second half of 2023.
According to the consultation paper released by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations in April, labor hire workers would be considered to be performing the “same job” if they carry out duties that are equivalent to those covered by a workplace pay agreement (known as an enterprise agreement), an award safety net, or if they perform duties comparable to those of directly employed individuals working for the host company.
According to COSBOA, the “Same Job, Same Pay” proposals are misleading and do not promote equal pay for men and women, fairness, or justice as their name suggests. Instead, they contend that the reforms would enforce a requirement for employers to pay inexperienced workers the same wages as those with decades of knowledge and experience.
They further argue that this policy would prevent workers from earning higher pay through hard work or longer hours if their colleagues do not share the same level of ambition or work ethic. COSBOA believes that this regressive approach would deprive Australian workers of flexibility and individual treatment, as well as hinder their ability to negotiate higher wages for increased effort.
COSBOA asserts that the “Same Job, Same Pay” reforms would eliminate worker incentives and reduce productivity, which they argue is unfair to both workers and employers. They believe there are alternative approaches that would lead to better pay for workers.
Additionally, COSBOA expresses concern that these changes would make it more challenging for small businesses to engage with larger companies, rendering many service providers economically unviable. They argue that the reforms would also impose significant limitations on companies seeking to expand, undertake new projects, develop infrastructure, or manage their operations according to their own strategies.
According to COSBOA, businesses of all sizes require the ability to adjust their operations in response to economic conditions and seize opportunities as they arise.
What are they saying?
Andrew McKellar, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argues that the “Same Job, Same Pay” concept is misleading and unfair, as it limits rewards for effort and experience while impeding flexibility desired by workers and needed by businesses. He challenges claims that labour hire workers are paid less, stating that, on average, they earn more than permanent employees. He warns that eliminating flexibility will harm the economy, punish workers, and increase costs for consumers.
Samantha McCulloch, CEO of the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, emphasises the industry’s commitment to fair and equitable pay based on effort and experience. She highlights the need for an industrial relations framework that supports operational flexibility and improved productivity to ensure a competitive and affordable gas supply for Australia’s cleaner energy future.
Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, expresses concern that the proposed laws would hinder the recognition of experience and effort, making it impossible to reward workers accordingly. She predicts negative consequences for workers struggling with the cost of living and warns that the country will become unattractive for investment, resulting in fewer jobs.
Matthew Addison, Chair of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, expresses concerns that the “Same Job Same Pay” proposal may negatively impact productive relationships between employers and employees. He calls for reform to address identified problems without unintended adverse consequences.
Shaun Schmitke, Acting CEO of Master Builders Australia, argues that independent subcontracting is a legitimate engagement method in the building and construction industry. He warns that the proposed changes would curtail the autonomy of subcontractors, hinder their ability to negotiate wages and conditions and restrict their project choices. He believes these changes would introduce uncertainty, commercial risk, and negative consequences for the community, consumers, and industry already facing disruptions and economic uncertainty.
Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, questions the fairness of demanding the same pay for individuals with differing levels of experience. She emphasizes that workplaces should reward effort, experience, skills, and qualifications, acknowledging the unique nature of each workplace and the varied ambitions and values of workers. She criticizes the policy as another attack on Australian businesses, hindering economic recovery and the country’s role in the clean energy sector.
Tony Mahar, CEO of the National Farmers Federation, highlights the challenges the “Same Job, Same Pay” proposal would pose for farmers, who often operate small, family-run businesses without access to legal or HR support. He argues that the policy would create chaos and confusion during peak periods like harvest, where contractor numbers can surge significantly. Mahar believes loyalty and experience should be rewarded and suggests that complex and costly regulations will make food production more expensive for everyday Australians.
Charles Cameron, CEO of the Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association, warns that the proposed changes will slow down Australia’s speed to market. He criticizes the complex audits required to determine the definition of the same job and the corresponding pay level, which will hinder Australia’s competitiveness. He questions whether this regulatory burden aligns with the investment brand Australia aims to portray.
The government aims to legislate the proposed law in the second half of 2023.