What will a change in Government mean for the jobs market – the story so far…

We may only be in February, but with an election coming up in May this year, we thought it was time to have a look at some things that may affect the jobs market and other related employment areas if there happens to be a change in Government. Based on our research of readily available information from both Labor and The Liberals this is what we have found out but this is bound to change, so watch this space.  Here is the story so far:

Based on current polls, the consensus is that Labor is expected to win the election, (although anything can happen) and if they do, that win would come with many changes. Bear in mind of course that not all the promises are in as yet so this is just a broad snapshot of what has been spruiked so far by either party and by no means set in concrete. The fact that we have all experienced change continues to be the one constant. So let’s take a closer look at both sides with our research into what this might look like.

According to HRM Online, some of the changes that a Labor government has promised to deliver if they win the election this year include:

  1. A reversal of the reduction of penalty rates;
  2. Changes to labour hire pay and conditions;
  3. Increased penalties for underpayment; and
  4. Clarification about the position of permanent casual workers.

Let’s look at these in a bit more detail.

A reversal of the reduction of penalty rates:

In 2017, the Fair Work Commission made the decision to phase in the reduction of penalty rates in some sectors including the Retail, Hospitality and Restaurant sectors, among others. This change meant a reduction in the casual Saturday and Sunday rates, and the evening rates. There was a lot of uproar regarding this decision, given that it meant there was a significant wage cut for those affected.

In 2017, Mr Shorten promised, that if Labor were to win the next election (set for May 2019), they will reverse these cuts, ideally wanting this to happen in the first 100 days of an election win. Prior to the decision in 2017, Labor had been campaigning against it and in the end their vote for an amendment was defeated by 73 votes to 72.

Changes to Labour Hire pay and conditions:

According to HRM Online, if a Labor government is elected, they will legislate to ensure that “workers employed through a labour hire company will receive the same pay and conditions as people employed directly”. In order to do this, they plan to introduce a national labour hire licensing scheme to protect workers from being exploited as casuals, even if they fall outside of the definition of a casual employee. The reasoning behind this is that some workers employed through a labour hire company, are not being compensated the same as those employed directly, and this is what the Labor party wants to change. Even though some workers enjoy the flexibility that casual work provides them, other employees are not working casually by choice.

Increased penalties for underpayment:

Research has shown that migrant workers, international students and backpackers often earn less money than they are legally entitled to. Sometimes this is unintentional by small business owners, due to the complex workplace laws in Australia, however it appears to be quite common that employers are not paying people correctly, or they are not paying their penalty rates. Something that the unions are calling for, is wage theft laws and in July 2017, the Labor party mentioned its intention to criminalise the act where those are deliberately failing to pay wages and entitlements. The Labor Workplace Relations spokesperson said they would increase the civil penalties for wage theft, in order to deter employers from going down that road. There has even been talk of punishing employers by threatening jail for up to 10 years, however this looks to be a step too far and would likely create more issues than it would solve.

Clarification of permanent casual workers:

Over the past year there has been much talk about what it means to be a ‘casual’ employee, given that the casual workforce has grown so much over recent years. Due to one particular case, Workpac Vs Skene there has been further consideration as to what makes a casual employee ‘casual’ and what doesn’t. Currently the law clarifies the below:

  1. Employers can engage long term casual employees which is defined as an employee who has been employed on a regular and systematic basis for a sequence of periods of employment during a period of at least 12 months (from the Fair Work Act); and
  2. Each occasion that a casual employee works is viewed as a separate engagement; casual employees may be engaged from week to week, day to day, shift to shift, hour to hour or for any other agreed short period (from common law).

This doesn’t really help to explain what most of us have always considered as a casual employee, but it appears that due to Workpac Vs Skene the 4 main things we can use to describe casual work is irregularity in work patterns, uncertainty, discontinuity and intermittency of work and unpredictability. So, for example an employee who works on a casual basis but is employed to work the same hours, and the same days each week for an extended period of time, would no longer be considered a casual worker.

The Labor party has said that if they win the election, they will try to further clarify the position of permanent casual workers. Hopefully this will clear up any ambiguity for both employers and employees.

Now for a brief look at what could be in store if the Labor party do not win the election…

If the Liberal party were to stay in power for the next election, amongst other things, Mr Morrison has promised the following:

  1. Create 1.25 million jobs over the next 5 years;
  2. A stronger economy with more jobs;
  3. Less welfare dependency by providing more jobs;
  4. Creating opportunities for young Australians, including more apprenticeships; and
  5. Supporting Australian women with more jobs and opportunities.

There is a bit of a theme in this list, mainly that the party will create more jobs and opportunities, in turn building a stronger economy. Mr Morrison has promised to create 1.25 million jobs over the next 5 years if re-elected. Ahead of the election in 2013, Tony Abbott promised something very similar, 1 million jobs over 5 years, which was delivered. However, due to the rapidly increase population in Australia, it is said that this goal was always going to happen and therefore not something to tick off the list for the Liberal party.

The party, plan to increase school funding, improve school standards, provide more apprenticeships and help young jobseekers. In order to support Australian women in the workplace, they plan to provide more accessible and affordable childcare, provide more flexible parental leave, assisting vulnerable parents to become work ready, and by investing in programs to directly support women and children who are victims of domestic violence, they plan to increase women’s safety.

By providing more jobs in the economy, the Liberal party hope to reduce welfare dependency. Currently the number of Australians on welfare has fallen to its lowest rate in over 30 years, and they want to keep it that way. In order to make this happen, the party plan to deliver greater support for job seekers to assist them in finding a job. They are implementing programs such as ‘Work For The Dole’ to encourage those on the dole, to find a job. They are seeking to implement drug testing on those who are receiving Youth Allowance and Newstart and they also plan to ensure that those on welfare affected by drugs and alcohol will be required to undertake treatment so that they can get well and then get a job.

There will be penalties for those who are scamming the system, to ensure that everyone is compliant and given a fair go. Overall, Mr Morrison has pitched the Liberal party as a “jobs government”.

So let’s see how this all plays out. We have several months of ‘campaigning’ to go yet with plenty of options to consider that will impact the jobs market in one way or other. Given all of this information it will be very interesting to see how the Australian people vote on 18 May 2019.

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