Labor firms position with independent contractors

Labor has moved to reassure thousands of independent contractors in the housing industry that their status would not be threatened under any new IR regime if there is a change of government.

The Housing Industry Association says correspondence it has received from Labor IR spokeswoman Julia Gillard means it is now in a position to ensure independent contractor members that they will be able to continue to operate without interference, The Australian Financial Review reports.

The HIA has also accepted a position on a business advisory group Labor says it would establish to advise it on the formulation of its IR legislation if it wins government.

The key commitments from Gillard were a promise that “unions should not be able to interfere in commercial arrangements involving contractors” and a reiteration of Labor’s view that independent contractors should be covered by commercial, not industrial, law.

But a key issue appears to have been left unresolved by Gillard in her letter to the HIA – will Labor retain existing laws that protect independent contractors from discrimination in the workplace?

In communication with Independent Contractors Australia earlier this year, the question of whether key sections of the Workplace Relations Act would be retained was left without a concrete answer from Labor small business and independent contractor spokesman Craig Emerson.

Ken Phillips, the executive director of Independent Contractors Australia, says it is critical that legal protections for independent contractors are maintained.

“These sections mean that industrial instruments can’t dictate the terms of engagement for independent contractors. Previously instruments could ban the use of independent contractors, there was wholesale discrimination that if it were done in normal commercial conditions would be a breach of the Trade Practices Act, so we’re very supportive of the provisions that prohibit those sorts of things,” Phillips says.

Small Business Minister Fran Bailey says independent contractors should call on Labor to clarify its position on the key provisions.

“Look at what Labor will do, rather than what they say. Labor will tear up the protections of Section 799 and 800. They are refusing to answer questions before the election, only promising to set up an ‘advisory board’ afterwards. What independent contractors want is their rights protected, not an advisory board,” Bailey says.

It is possible further clarification on the issue may be close at hand, however – Phillips says the ICA has received information from Labor, to be released tomorrow, in response to its questions on the issue.

Political debate over the status of independent contractors, who now constitute well over 10% of the workforce, has raged since the Government introduced revamped laws conferring new rights and obligations late in 2006.



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