Senate Inquiry into the Future of Work and Workers

March 29, 2018

Progressive Economics

On Tuesday 13 March, Per Capita’s Executive Director, Emma Dawson, and Research Fellow, Tim Lyons, testified before the Senate Select Committee inquiring into the future of work and workers in Melbourne.

Drawing on Per Capita’s submission to the inquiry, and our recent report The Future of the Fair Go, Emma told the Committee that, if there was one message she hoped they would take from this inquiry, it is that government must not be shy of intervening to regulate new and emerging industries to ensure that workers continue to receive a living wage and are protected from exploitation.

“Ensuring such protection of citizens is the fundamental role of government,” Emma said.

“During the first industrial revolution, workers were required to work 12 to 14 hours a day. In the cotton spinning mills in northern England, mill owners were patenting machines that could be operated by small children as young as five, and conditions were hazardous. It was through the efforts of labour reformists who fought on the floor of parliament to instigate laws to protect workers that those conditions were overturned and the beginning of labour regulation was put in place. So there is nothing new under the sun, and the answer to the challenges presented by the future of work lie the past.

“We must not shirk our responsibility to meet today’s industrial transformation with an equal commitment to protecting workers and their right to a living wage in secure, safe employment. This means extending our workplace laws to cover contracts and those employed in the gig economy; it means restoring the right of workers to withhold their labour in pursuit of better working conditions; it means restoring the integrity of the bargaining system; setting an ambitious unemployment target of at least four per cent or less, and requiring the RBA to consider that in their approach to monetary policy as well as government and acting policies to achieve it; it means investing in skills, training and lifelong learning to enable people to adapt to changing workplaces and industrial disruption; it means closing the gender pay gap, particularly for women who rely on the minimum wage; and it means replacing the disastrous Work for the Dole CDP scheme in remote Indigenous communities with real jobs that provide training, security and a living wage.

“None of this is beyond our ability. It takes commitment and it takes a choice to put the wellbeing of people before profit. Too many Australians today believe they’re working for the economy rather than that the economy is working for them. It’s time they got their fair share of prosperity in one of the wealthiest nations on earth.”

Download the Hansard record of Emma and Tim’s testimony here.