CCI has highlighted some serious concerns with the recommendations released in the interim report from the Ministerial Review of the WA’s Industrial Relations System.

By Robyn Molloy and Keith Black

Proposed changes to the definition of an employee could have dramatic consequences for householders and community groups.

The review, among its 73 recommendations, has proposed that the existing exclusion of domestic workers and volunteers from being regarded as employees under the legislation be removed.

This would mean that a person engaged by a private home owner to do domestic work such as cleaning, ironing, weeding and other duties would now be regarded as an employee.

As an employer, the home owner would need to pay award wages, tax, superannuation, workers compensation and meet all the requirements of workplace legislation.

This would also result in the private home becoming a workplace.

Volunteers at sporting clubs, community events, arts and crafts festivals etc would also be regarded as employees with the same requirements to be met.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA has branded the changes ‘unworkable and untenable’, saying the current exclusions for domestic work and volunteers should remain.

In response to the interim report, CCI said in its submission the change would bring an end to mutual agreements between friends, neighbours and acquaintances for domestic services and impact local communities that rely heavily on volunteers to assist local groups and events.

CCI said the recommendation to have volunteers included as employees would disrupt the estimated $39 billion contribution they make annually to WA communities.

“CCIWA recommends that the State does not seek to include domestic workers as employees, as the consequence of making all households employers, by default, would create unacceptable, impractical and additional regulations that are unnecessary and intrusive into the private home,” its submission said.

“The extension of workplace regulations to home owners would raise fundamental concerns.

“A household cannot sensibly be seen as an employer.”

Imprisonment

The interim report has also recommended that the penalties for a breach of the legislation be expanded to increase not only the monetary penalties but also to now include the additional penalty of imprisonment of up to 12 months, which CCI firmly opposes.

This would mean small businesses including sole traders, unincorporated partnerships and unincorporated trusts, as well as homeowners – if deemed employers under the Act – would be at risk of these severe penalties.

Right of entry

The interim report also included changes to the right of entry provisions under the Act that would be expanded beyond an ‘industrial location’ to include ‘any place where work is or has been performed’.

This would allow the right of entry into private homes at any time, a proposition that CCI says cannot be contemplated because it is not even available to the WA Police Force.

“Consider the ability for the individual entering a private residence to proceed to a child’s bedroom (even more concerning if children are present in the home), view personal possessions, ‘inspect’ the home and assess activities within the residence,” CCI’s submission said.

CCI believes this recommendation would generate significant public concern, especially given the proposed entry could happen at any time, not just while work is being carried out.

Gig economy

While CCI would welcome participation in a proposed taskforce to oversee the gig economy, it disputes the review’s definition that such work is ‘new’ or an ‘industry’.

“The gig economy is part of a shifting cultural and business environment,” CCI’s submission said.

“With the arrival of digital freelance marketplaces and high-speed connectivity, the complete autonomy that accompanies freelance work is more attainable than ever. As the benefits of working independently become more apparent, the freelance economy will continue to influence the workforce and the economy.

“Therefore, CCIWA would submit that the ‘gig’ economy is a description of a manner of work activity that is not new, is broadly encompassing and is not an industry per se.”

Gig work is driven by individual choice, for endless reasons in lieu of undertaking traditional employment, its submission says.

Modernising State Awards

CCI welcomed the recommendations to modernise and consolidate the currently outdated State Awards, ensuring they are written in plain English and user friendly for employers.

It also welcomed the range of recommendations that seek to align the IR Act where possible with the Fair Work Act, particularly establishing minimum conditions in the form of State Employment Standards, the same as the National Employment Standards.

These recommendations would go a long way to creating a level playing field as WA was the only state not to refer its industrial relations powers for private sector employers to the Federal system, it said.

While most private sector businesses are now covered by the national industrial relations system, a percentage of mostly small business employees (about 11 per cent) remain covered by the State system.

Final report due soon

The review was announced on September 22 last year with the Interim Report released in March. It is expected that the review’s final report will be released in late June.

The State system has not been comprehensively reviewed and updated since 2002 despite the industrial relations and employment environment changing significantly since then.
To view CCI’s submission in full, click here