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Australia’s workers’ bill introduced in parliament, labeled most radical 

Australia’s workers' bill introduced in parliament, labeled most radical 

Government introduced the Fair Work Legislation Amendment Bill in Parliament and it has sparked a fierce debate among labor and business. 

The bill will impact thousands of workers on digital platforms, including food delivery and e-hailing services. It will be effective in ten months.   

Contract workers could be paid the same total rate as direct workforce employees. This could include bonuses and overtime. 

Implications for business

Under this bill, anyone who deliberately underpays a worker can be slapped with a hefty fine of up to $7.8 million or behind bars.

Workplace relations minister Tony Burke told ABC Insiders there is nothing wrong with criminalizing wage theft. “The same way the courts always deal with intention. If you intentionally – as a worker – take money from the till, it’s a criminal offense, and it should be. But if the employer intentionally withholds money from your pay, it’s not a criminal offense.”

The minister says this is a “simple loophole” which should be easy to close. He says the controversy around this part of the legislation takes him aback. “The objective here is not to send people to jail. The objective is to make sure that people are paid properly, and so there’s a combination of the changes we’re making with the prison terms being there, which I do think will sharpen the minds of the very few people who’ve engaged in this intentionally,” he told the media house. 

Business backlash brewing

The business sector has yet to respond to the bill’s full impact. The financial consequences on businesses could have a ripple effect on consumers. Food or parcels delivered to homes will become more expensive as companies try to pass on the increases. 

The business sector might be concerned about the amount of access and power given to labor, including a company’s payroll. But Burke has vehemently denied this. “No, it doesn’t give them that sort of access. But it allows them, when issues are raised, to be able to help represent people,” he told ABC Insiders.

Under this bill, the Fair Work Commission can set the minimum standards for “employee-like workers.” 

The Business Council of Australia says the changes will be disruptive, and the impact will be across the economy. The council’s Jennifer Westacott says these changes will stifle productivity. “Leaving Australians facing another decade of low, stagnating wages. Everyone believes Australian workers deserve to be paid a fair rate for their labor, but these changes are taking Australia in the wrong direction at precisely the wrong time.”

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