The Guardian • Issue #2070


  • by E Lennon
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2070
Half the Sky column logo

Will Labor’s bill help working women?

E Lennon

Workplace relations minister, Tony Burke, has tabled a bill aimed at tackling several issues faced by workers including wage theft and the gig economy, as well as casual workers’ rights and stopping family violence discrimination. (see this issue “THE BIG RIP-OFF”)

While Labor promotes the bill, the question remains whether it will go far enough to create meaningful reform and improvements for workers. More than this, whether or not it will advance the rights and protections for working women, many of whom are in precarious and exploitative casual jobs.

Featured in the bill is legislation to stop employers from discriminating against employees who have experienced or are experiencing domestic or family violence. While this is an important part of the bill and needs to be passed, it’s also important to consider the other parts of the whole.

The minister took to the floor of the House of Representatives and boasted of workers earning $10 a day more because of Labor and how the party has fought for aged care workers. Minister Burke also spoke on the further reform needed to protect workers.

“But there are many workers who this still isn’t reaching. Workers it’s not reaching because there are loopholes their employers are using to make sure they don’t even get the minimum standards,” said minister Burke.

However, while the minister lambasted the opposition during his speech, he overlooked Labor’s own responsibility in degrading and eroding workers’ rights.

It’s all well and good for Minister Burke to try and make Labor out to be a beacon of working-class advocacy, however, this bill is a drop in the ocean compared to the decades of anti-worker and neoliberal legislation enabled by its Hawke government in the 1980s.

The gig economy that neoliberal economic policies have created is built on the backs of migrants, including many migrant women. Gig workers have low bargaining power, little agency over their work, and receive less pay than their counterparts outside of digital platform work.

Minister Burke’s bill will mean these workers can apply to the Fair Work Commission for minimum standards. This will include amongst other issues pay, penalty rates, and the ability to push back against being ‘deactivated’ from platforms. While this will help workers if passed, it ignores fundamental questions of substantial regulation and whether or not the gig economy should be a feature of Australian work and economics in the first place.

Many of the workers affected may also not be in a position to advocate for themselves even if the law enables them to take their issues to the Fair Work Commission.

The same questions can be asked of the bill’s proposals on casual work. While it’s important that the bill will allow workers to convert to full-time work more easily if they choose, casual loading at the expense of sick and holiday pay may still be an attractive option for many. Workers should not have to choose between adequate pay and job security.

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More