ABC ADELAIDE: 10/02/21

February 10, 2021


DAVID BEVAN, HOST: Mark Butler, Labor MP for Hindmarsh, thanks for joining us. 


BEVAN: Does anyone really care though, about the guy delivering the fast food on his push bike?

BUTLER: I think we do. I think we've got a really good culture and legacy long standing here in Australia that when we buy our services, when we buy our goods, we can safely assume that the workers who produced them are being paid properly. We're covered by workers compensation laws, particularly in industries that are inherently unsafe - and some of these delivery riders really do work in very unsafe conditions. The gig economy thing, I think, has snuck up on us and challenges many of the long standing assumptions that we as consumers have been able to rely upon when we buy goods and we buy services, namely, that the workers who are often our neighbours, or our children, or our friends and relatives are actually getting paid properly.

BEVAN: But are these jobs only possible if the workers don't have these benefits and these protections, that is, once you introduce these benefits and protections that it'll cost too much and they'll evaporate?

BUTLER: We've heard those arguments for as long as the industrial revolution has been running. We used to have these problems with casework and every time I can tell you, I did the state wage case in the South Australian Industrial Commission for many years, every time we argued for a wage increase, every time we argued for some other protection, like superannuation or workers compensation, the argument gets thrown back that we will just price the good out of the market, you'll price the service out of the market.
I think a long history has shown that not to be right, consumers are willing to pay for goods and services that are produced and delivered by workers who are paid properly. Because they know, at the end of the day, to do otherwise it's not only unfair but starts to unravel the whole system, our children don't get paid properly, meaning they can't get a home loan, they can't put down roots and start to raise a family. These are the sorts of things that Anthony Albanese is going to be talking about in today's speech.

ALI CLARKE, HOST: If you think that we do care then why is there the continuing success of say, big shops that sell things like t-shirts for as little as $1.50? As a consumer, you must know that somewhere, someone is not getting paid enough because that item is so cheap, yes, those are the shops that are continuing to survive and thrive?

BUTLER: Well, we do now import a range of goods that are produced overseas. They're produced in economies that don't enjoy the wages and conditions we enjoy here in Australia. They are economies that are developing and over time are lifting their wages and conditions. China is probably the best example of that. This is something that we've as consumers, and as a society had to grapple with, as we've opened up our economy over the last few decades. 
When you're talking about the delivery of services, in our own neighbourhoods, by workers in our own neighbourhoods, we've been able to rely upon a system of wages and conditions to cover all of those workers. This has been a crisis, the job security crisis in Australia that predated the gig economy emerging, but it's really become much sharper under the gig economy. And in many cases, the lid was lifted on some of the job security issues with the pandemic. We found the beginning of a once in a century pandemic, for example, that one in three Australian workers did not have access to paid sick leave entitlements, and many of those workers were working on the frontline keeping us safe. They were cleaners, aged care workers, working in our hospitals. These are the sorts of issues that are often raised with me and other Members of Parliament. They're the issues that Anthony Albanese is talking about in his speech today.

BEVAN: Have you ever used Uber Eats?

BUTLER: I have used Uber Eats a couple of times.

BEVAN: Did you feel bad?

BUTLER: I don't think we as consumers should be having to think about whether or not the worker who delivers the service to us is getting paid properly. We've had an industrial relation system in place for decades and decades that has been the envy of the world. That has ensured that workers in this country get paid proper wages and conditions. Now, from time to time something emerges in the system that seeks to get around that and when it does, we clamped down on that. We make sure that all services or goods produced in this country are governed by the contract that was developed in the wake of World War II that workers would get paid a fair wage for a fair day's work, they'd be covered by safe workplace laws. If they got injured at work, they’d be covered by workers compensation. So I don't think it should be put on the consumer, it should be put on the Government to put in place laws that mean that people can enjoy these new innovations.

BEVAN: But in that moment, you didn't think, look, I know this guy or girl is being exploited, so I'll give them a tip?
BUTLER: I usually do tip, I can't remember whether I did on that occasion, David. But I'll make the point this is not about an individual circumstance. This is about consumers being able to enjoy these new innovations, while also having confidence that the workers that are delivering the services over the internet, over these great new apps, lots of convenience for consumers - are actually enjoying fair workplace laws.
CLARKE: Let's go to the phones now. Blight from West Lakes, good morning, what do you have to say?
BLIGHT (CALLER): David Bevin suggesting that we, if we get some good working conditions and rates of pay that if we do that we'll lose the job. Well, whatever happened to slavery?
CLARKE: You think it's like slavery now?
BLIGHT (CALLER): It’s an equivalent.
BEVAN: We did actually have this discussion before we came on air, and I made exactly that point. So it's called devil's advocate. But thank you for pointing it out. So what do you say Mark Butler needs to be done? Because these people fall into this limbo land don’t they? Because they are “employee-like” what do you say needs to be done in just a couple quick points?
BUTLER: The legislation needs to keep up with what's happening in the economy. We need to make sure that these, what I think are often cash sham independent contractor arrangements where we pretend that these are people running their own businesses as if they're the local plumber that's got a whole lot of equipment and can choose the way in which they work, that needs to be cracked down on. We need a legislative response. Then we need the Industrial Commission that served this country so well over many decades to be able to set standards and wages for these new emerging types of service - these new emerging industries. 
There are a range of other job security challenges in the economy, beyond the gig economy, very traditional areas of work like the ones I've talked about cleaning and aged care, many others, and we want to see much more focus on what I think really is the job security crisis. We've got a generation coming into the workplace, for whom the idea of permanent full time work is quite foreign and they are going to find it hard to get a home loan. They're going to find it hard to put down roots and raise families like generations of Australians have been able to.
CLARKE: Mark Butler Labor MP for Hindmarsh thank you for your time.