Contractors sour on Labor?

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Attempts by Small Business Minister Fran Bailey to pull independent contractor groups into line appears to have met with some success, with reports today that Independent Contractors Australia now plans to withdraw its tentative support for Labor’s policy.

Earlier this week ICA executive director Ken Phillips said correspondence he had received from Labor detailing its position on independent contractors contained “some very credible answers” on the group’s central policy principles.

The generally positive response Labor appeared to be receiving reportedly triggered an outburst from Bailey, including the comment that she doesn’t think that they’re doing a good job on behalf of independent contractors if they are “prepared to accept promises that something should happen”.

As unusual as it was to hear a Coalition minister criticising business representative groups, it appears the strategy has paid off. According to reports today, at a board meeting on Wednesday the ICA resolved to issue a release expressing stronger support for existing legal arrangements for independent contractors.

The key issue behind the debate is whether Labor intends to retain sections 799 and 800 of the Workplace Relations Act, which prohibit actions designed to harm or discriminate against people because they are independent contractors.

Bailey argues that Labor has yet to commit to retaining the sections and therefore should not be endorsed by independent contractor groups. Labor, for its part, told the ICA that if elected its IR legislation will contain “strong freedom of association provisions” and that “it will not be lawful… to prescribe that contractors be engaged or not engaged on the basis of their industrial arrangements”.

Until we see the statement, it will be unclear exactly how much of a back-flip this involves for the ICA – after all, for all of the profile that has been given to its warming attitude towards Labor, it has continued to point out that “the current Government removed other parties’ ability to discriminate against independent contractors. ICA strongly supported and continues to support this.”

Phillips today refused to comment on the report, which he described as “speculation”, or even to confirm that the ICA board had met on Wednesday.

He did, however, say that the ICA website remains an up-to-date reflection of the group’s position, which includes this statement: “on October 1 ICA received an e-mail letter from Julia Gillard and Craig Emerson clarifying the ALP’s position on industrial instruments interfering in independent contractor arrangements. The letter (click here) is a very strong indication of the ALP’s intentions that people should be able to operate as independent contractors if they so wish.”


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