Family First Senator Bob Day is calling for the federal government to allow young workers to “opt out” of the Fair Work Act if they want to.
Day’s proposal, which reportedly also has the support of Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm, comes as the government continues to struggle to pass a number of its budget measures through the Senate, including its plan to force young unemployed people to wait six months to receive welfare payments.
Fairfax reports Day is a staunch critic of the welfare plan, but will reverse his position if the government grants young workers more flexibility to negotiate with employers over minimum wages, as well as other conditions such as annual and sick leave and unfair dismissal protections.
Day told SmartCompany this morning he doesn’t “want to touch the Fair Work Act”, which he says the government “should leave as it is”.
But he describes the Fair Work Act as “a walled town” that workers, particularly young workers in rural and regional areas, “should be allowed to leave if they want to”.
“And it’s not just about wages,” says Day.
“A worker might say [to an employer] ‘I still need the equivalent of the minimum wage but I don’t want sick leave or long service leave and you can terminate me within a week’.”
“What I’m saying is that if someone doesn’t want to be a part of [the system], they should be able to opt out completely.”
Day describes his proposal as the “silver bullet” which would “solve Australia’s unemployment problem and budget problem overnight”.
“If every small business hired just one more person, the government would get income tax from these new employees,” he says.
“The jobs would be there instantly, especially in rural and regional areas. This is the slingshot that will beat Goliath … but they, the government, are too scared to talk about workplace reform.”
Day, who has spent 40 years running his own businesses in the construction industry, says he has spoken to many other small business owners who support his ideas.
“I was a tradesperson [and] when I started out in the building industry, everyone had an apprentice,” says Day. “But that’s no longer the case.”
“Cafes are shutting their doors on weekends because they can’t afford to pay penalty rates,” says Day.
“I believe a young person should be able to knock on a business’s door and say, ‘I get $5 an hour on the dole, can I work for you for $15 an hour?’”
“What gives anyone the right to say someone cannot work if they want to?”
Day says small Australian business “would love some help” but their pleas are going unnoticed by the federal government, which would prefer to work with large corporations that can hire hundreds of workers at once.
“Politics is all about big business, the big end of town,” he says.
“[The government] thinks business talks with one voice and that’s the voice of big business.”
But Day’s proposal has been met with some opposition in the small business community, with Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, telling SmartCompany COSBOA members are “not interested”.
While Strong says there may be some businesses who like the look of the policy, he believes it “needs a lot more thought”.
“You’ve got to have a system,” says Strong, who says high penalty rates and the complexity of award agreements are a much bigger concern.
“We want the system to be more friendly to employing people,” he says.
Strong says COSBOA is looking closely at the government’s policies regarding job seekers, particularly around how subsidies are paid to employers and the number of positions job seekers will need to apply for each month.
“And training, we believe there should be more of a focus on training,” he says.
SmartCompany contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office but the office declined to comment.