Small business and independent contractor election update

With but a day between this blog and the election, you would think all the decisons have been made. Think again…




Colin Benjamin

For those who think that the election is all-but over – think again. 


Every day more and more people who voted for the Coalition last time on interest rates are listening to the line: “Which party is best placed to manage the economy?”


Consciously or unconsciously they are watching the US sharemarket and beginning to heed the tsunami warning as they see four or five of the world’s largest financial institutions go into crisis management mode.


If the election were one more week away, people would be scared enough to see the Government returned to office.

Mark 12 December in your diary for another possible cut in the US Fed rates, although the marked fall in retail sales and changes in consumer confidence will encourage them to wait until after the Christmas sales results come in. 


There is an increasing world variance in the level of consumer confidence and concern that the US is teetering on the edge of a recession and financial reconstruction as the next wave of sub-prime bank issues emerge.


At the same time expect that oil prices and gold will still be on the rise at a time when the value of commodity prices is going in the opposite direction. Both the Government and the Opposition are correctly flagging that major corrections are coming in long term supply agreements and that we cannot automatically assume that China will play the role of economic lifeguard.



The critical questions for psephologists and small businesses are the extent that this international alignment of falling financial stars will affect domestic consumer confidence before the polls close.


Already the Morgan Consumer Confidence index shows that there is a chasm emerging between the affluent families and independent contractors who accept the PM’s “working families have never had it so good” theme and the casual and part-time workers belief that they have never had less workplace protection.


The results of the election are more likely to be affected by the level of unsurety in the marginal electorates down the east coast than the fear of a change in government on the west coast.


Under these circumstances it is not surprising to see Julia Gillard and Craig Emerson working assiduously to regain the votes of the ex-trade union members who have become small business owners and independent contractors. Labor’s policy is that independent contractors are small businesses that should be regulated by commercial law and not industrial law, and that contractors should be supported and should be given fair opportunity to access work.


Unions will not be permitted to interfere in commercial arrangements involving contractors and the key tenets of freedom of association should be respected at all times.



The success of their plea for support from small business and independent contractors reflects a new survey from Murdoch University that shows that self-employed independent contractors are happier than employees. This supports a Zurich University study published in 2004.


The Murdoch study finds that the self-employed have higher life and work satisfaction than employees, and have perceived better general and mental health, vitality, social functioning and financial situations. The findings from Justin Craig, Michael Schaper and Clay Dibrell are published in a paper entitled “Life in Small Business in Australia: Evidence from the HILDA Survey”.



Labor now recognises the importance of independent contractors and small businesses to the Australian economy, with a dedicated shadow minister to match Fran Bailey who has battled this important group of working Australians.


It now accepts that:

  • All workers should be free to decide whether or not to join and be represented by a union, a choice that must be respected.
  • It should be unlawful for anyone to try to stop a working person exercising this free choice by threats, pressure, discrimination or victimisation.
  • Working people must not be discriminated against because of the nature of the industrial instrument that covers their employment.
  • Freedom of association is vital for the proper functioning of a fair industrial relations system.


Labor has now publicly clarified its position in relation to right of entry, genuine non-union bargaining, agreement content and bargaining fees.


Under Labor it will not be lawful for agreements to contain clauses that involve matters such as union preferences or union bargaining fees nor for agreements to prescribe that contractors be engaged or not engaged on the basis of their industrial arrangements or the union membership or non-membership of their employees.





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