Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

Laura Jayes
Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill; Svitzer industrial action; Deliveroo.

Laura Jayes, Host: Well, we've seen the standoff between Svitzer and its employees really boil over and there seems to be no end in sight to this. I want to get the views now. The Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister Tim Ayres he joins us live. Tim Ayres, good to see you, first of all -

Senator Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Good to see you back in the country too, Laura.

Jayes: Thank you. Yes, it's been a while, but it's good to be back. This has been an issue that I know has been bubbling along for quite some time, but it's spilled over just before Christmas. Who's at fault here?

Ayres: Well, it's a pretty extraordinary use of the lockout facilities that there are in the Fair Work Act at the moment. Lockouts are a very extreme employer reaction. They used to be very unusual in Australian industrial relations. And I think, rather than apportion blame here, I think what Tony Burke's, the Industrial Relations Minister, is setting out to do, is to find a pathway forward to resolving this dispute, ending the lockout, encouraging the Fair Work Commission to exercise its powers to find a solution in this agreement. This lockout holds the country at ransom in the lead up to Christmas. And, of course, in my portfolio area, Australia is in the middle of global supply chains in its manufacturing sector, and we need certainty and continuity of supply. It seems like an extraordinary overreaction to what has been clearly a protracted bargaining, to lock workers out. It's an extraordinary reaction and it will cause disruption. And I think Tony Burke's showing what a mature, sensible government does when it's acting in the national interest and is leaning in to encourage their work commission to do its job.

Jayes: Sure, but we see these ports not operating today because workers have decided to strike today before the Fair Work Commission. Some employers are warning that if your IR changes pass Parliament, you're going to see more of this. Is that correct?

Ayres: Well, it's absolutely not correct. Industrial action in the Australian system is at an all-time low, and the international evidence about multi-employer bargaining, which has got the most attention so far in this debate the international evidence is really clear. 18 out of the 26 OECD countries have multi-employer bargaining as a cornerstone of their industrial relations system. And the evidence shows that it leads to higher employment, lower unemployment, higher productivity, higher wages and more cooperation-

Jayes: And more strike action?

Ayres: Well, it leads to more cooperation, Laura. It leads to more maturity in the industrial relations system.

Jayes: Is that a hope or a guarantee though Tim Ayres, is that a hope or a guarantee?

Ayres: That's what the international evidence demonstrates. It's absolutely overwhelming, our European counterparts, multi-employer bargaining is how they solve issues together between workers and firms. That's how they work through the big skills issues. You look at aged care, for example. The idea that we're going to continue saying that our offering in industrial relations terms to aged care workers and to aged care businesses is side-by-side enterprise bargaining but that is not a solution for that sector. We need to open up the enterprise bargaining system, allow more people into collective bargaining. And these reforms, in international terms are moderate and sensible. And in my experience, which is pretty broad and pretty deep across some sectors of our economy in the life that I led prior to coming to the parliament, we want to see more cooperation, we want to see more access to collective bargaining, we want to lift productivity, we want to lift wages. And these changes, moderate and sensible, go a long way towards those objectives.

Jayes: Okay, what about Deliveroo? Are you surprised by its collapse? What does it tell you about the tough trading conditions of companies like this?

Ayres: Well, it's a big signal, isn't it, that while there has been deep concern about the gig economy employment models that are proliferated, Deliveroo has been one of the companies that has sort of skirted around the edges of employment law, tried to avoid its obligations as an employer and has used the courts and the industrial relations system to try and obviate its obligations as an employer, when plainly it's many thousands of riders and drivers are doing work for Deliveroo. It is a sign out there that firstly, that workers need the protection of a strong industrial relations system and firms need the support too. But it's also a sign that conditions out there are pretty tough and they're pretty tough in hospitality more broadly at the moment. And I really feel for those riders and drivers who, they work in pretty tough conditions. Every time you drive passed a Deliveroo rider in the city, you just think. about them -

Jayes: Do they now have evidence, and I'm not saying this is wrong or right, but do they now have evidence that they can't afford to do what you want them to do? They need to keep the contract system.

Ayres: Well, Deliveroo's used that system and it's failed, it's in administration. There has to be good jobs, sustainable employment models for this new area of work. And what I'd encourage people to do, the firms, the unions in this area and of course the thousands of hospitality small businesses that now rely upon delivery services for much of their income is, people should work together. And I know that in some of these areas, some of the rideshare and delivery operators are engaging about these issues and the Transport Workers Union in particular from my observation, has got a pretty sophisticated approach to working across the sector to try and deliver a sustainable, safe employment model here. We had riders killed in Sydney, not so long ago. The conditions are very difficult for most of these young people in the dark, sometimes in the pouring rain, on bicycles, delivering people's dinner. We've got to do better.

Jayes: Yep, tip them, that's what I say. Not that that should be the system, but while it operates at the moment, if you can afford it, give your rider a tip.

Ayres: Of course, if you can help to support a rider, do it. But the system has got to deliver certainty and security. 

Jayes: Yeah-

Ayres: I think we agree there. It's pretty tough, isn't it? 

Jayes: Certainly is-

Ayres: For those young men and women who do that work.

Jayes: And for the small businesses too. But anyway, Tim Ayres we will have to leave there. We'll talk soon.

Ayres: Good on you Laura. See you soon.