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Select Committee on the Gig Economy Report

5 June 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:05): I move:

That the report of the select committee be noted.

Before I go into the detail of this report, I want to acknowledge the work of the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, who established this committee. She was Chair of the committee, and I was elected to take on the role of Chairperson after the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos's resignation from this place. I think it is worth reflecting on the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos's intentions when she established this committee back in 2022. She said:

The flexibility of the gig economy is often promoted as modernising and positive to both workers and businesses. In reality, the gig economy works by undercutting the traditional model of employment upon which many of our rules for worker protection are based.

The committee has recognised the work of the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos in the report, and we thank her for her contribution to the inquiry.

I think it is fair to say, in reflecting on some of the evidence that we heard, that gig work has been on the increase in South Australia in recent years. Gig work is defined as work where those undertaking this work do so on demand through digital apps, such as Uber, DoorDash or Menulog. Gig workers fall into a different category from other self-employed workers. Many of the protections that are provided to employees under workplace awards or health and safety laws are not valid for gig workers, who operate under online platforms that are not traditionally considered employers.

It is worth noting that the federal government has recently introduced legislation to close the loophole to protect these workers; however, our South Australian committee considered that there were some areas in which the state may introduce other measures to address remaining issues and provide additional protection to these workers.

One of the key concerns the committee heard was that gig workers often lack minimum employment conditions. There is an absence of workers compensation for these workers, they do not have access to paid leave, and there is no guaranteed minimum wage for the hours worked, no penalty rates and no allowances. It is concerning that, according to research from the McKell Institute, 45 per cent of gig workers are regularly earning less than the minimum wage.

The committee also heard about the practice of deplatforming, where gig workers are removed from the app due to a complaint being received. The Transport Workers' Union told the inquiry that in a normal employment situation you would have a formal recourse; however, that is not available to gig workers. I think that is concerning. We also heard evidence around health and safety concerns, with there being an absence of controls on the minimum hours worked and a lack of regulation of time of rest between long shifts.

While the flexibility of gig work has been attractive to some lifestyle situations, the committee heard that 81 per cent of gig workers were relying on that type of work to make ends meet and were working longer hours or working across multiple platforms during a 24-hour period to achieve financial stability. So whilst it may have suited people in terms of their lifestyle, in effect they were actually working much longer hours without access to some of the benefits that other workers have.

Some of the businesses that host these platforms told the committee that they are attempting to put protections in place. However, I submit that it is clear that we should not rely on ad hoc protections from these platforms and instead there is a strong case for industry regulation. The committee therefore recommended developing accountability standards for platforms in South Australia to give them better protections for risk management, health and safety measures, PPE and minimum pay and conditions.

Not only does this sector impact on the workers involved but also on our state economy across the board. One of the issues that was brought to the committee's attention is the fact that these platforms are not subject to payroll tax as they are not considered to be employer groups. This results in lost revenue for the state, especially given some of these platforms, such as Uber, are replacing services that offer more traditional forms of employment. I guess one example is the impact on the taxi industry.

The committee therefore recommends that the state government investigate amendments to payroll tax systems to consider applying the same obligations to digital platforms so that these digital platforms are subject to the same taxation requirements as those who employ workers directly. There was a concern that payroll tax being applied on businesses that employ people in a direct way was actually penalising those businesses that are in effect doing the right thing.

I will summarise the key recommendations. The first recommendation was that the government review legislation and make changes necessary to ensure consistency with the commonwealth's definition of employee-like workers. The second was that we call on the state government to consider developing accountability standards for platforms operating in South Australia. That would include procedures for identifying and addressing risks for gig workers, workplace health and safety standards, provision of PPE and appropriate training and induction programs for delivery drivers, information being provided to gig workers on the terms and conditions of their work relationship, regular reporting on workplace data and, of course, minimum pay and conditions.

The third recommendation called on the government to develop strategies to ensure international students and migrant workers receive consistent information on their rights at work and different employee relationships and arrangements. The fourth recommendation called on the government to investigate the potential to expand the workers compensation scheme to ensure access by gig economy workers.

The fifth recommendation called on the government to investigate establishing a portable leave entitlement scheme for gig workers. The sixth recommendation called on the government to review occupational health and safety laws to give protection to gig workers. The seventh recommendation called on the government to consider amendments to state procurement policies to prioritise local companies that directly employ workers or meet minimum standards for gig workers. We did receive some evidence in that regard that the government as an organisation that has significant buying power could use that more effectively to incentivise some of the businesses that are doing the right thing.

The eighth recommendation called on the government to consider adopting the approach and features of the Queensland government's state-based industrial relations system for jurisdiction over non-employees, with the power to make binding determinations, set enforceable standards and resolve disputes, noting that the South Australian Employment Tribunal appears well suited to this role.

The ninth and final recommendation called on the government to investigate amendments to payroll tax systems to consider applying the same obligations to digital platforms as to businesses that directly employ workers.

In concluding, I want to acknowledge the work of the members of the committee: the Hon Reggie Martin, the Hon. Mira El Dannawi, who replaced the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, the Hon. Ben Hood and the Hon. Dennis Hood. It was a committee that included a broad cross-section of the parliament, and it is certainly my hope that the government will review the recommendations and provide a response in due course.

I also acknowledge the work of the secretariat for the committee, Emma Johnston, who put in a lot of work to ensure that we have a thorough report that is available for the government's consideration. With that, I conclude my remarks.


Motion: Public Builder

27 September 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:36): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that since January 2023, at least four major South Australian construction companies have gone into liquidation, resulting in:

(a) over 125 job losses;

(b) over 250 new residential buildings left incomplete; and

(c) over $50 million in unpaid debts.

2. Acknowledges that South Australia is experiencing a housing crisis, and it is the responsibility of the government to stabilise the building industry and to improve the supply of affordable and public housing stock.

3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder to:

(a) undertake construction of new public and affordable homes;

(b) provide maintenance to existing public and social housing; and

(c) intervene to complete houses that are partially constructed where building companies have collapsed.

This motion notes that since January 2023 at least four major South Australian construction companies have gone into liquidation in our state. That has resulted in 125 job losses, over 250 new residential buildings being left incomplete, and over $50 million in unpaid debts.

The motion acknowledges that South Australia is experiencing a housing crisis and that it is the responsibility of the government to stabilise the building industry and improve the supply of affordable and public housing stock. It calls on the Malinauskas government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder to undertake construction of new public and affordable homes, to provide maintenance to existing public and social housing, and to intervene to complete houses that are partially constructed when a building company has collapsed.

The signs of this housing crisis are plain for all of us to see. We have people sleeping on our streets, we have people sleeping in tents, people couch surfing. There are 15,000 people on the public housing waitlist in our state, and across South Australia many individuals are grappling with skyrocketing rents, unattainable home prices, and the constant fear of eviction—and this problem is only going to get worse with our construction industry being plunged into crisis. According to reports in The Australian there have been over 60 building company insolvencies in South Australia in the last financial year alone—over 60. We have seen more than four major construction companies collapse in the last three months alone.

Let's look at some of those examples. In July 2023, we saw Felmeri Homes leave more than 100 customers in the lurch when it collapsed after amassing over $30 million in unpaid debts. At least 20 of those homes were left unfinished; those are South Australians left high and dry waiting for their homes to be completed. In August this year, we saw 7 Star Construction also collapse, leaving 27 homes unfinished, and Quattro Homes collapsed this month, with over 200 homes left unfinished and the loss of 25 jobs. Just last week, we saw 100 staff lose their jobs at the Wake Concepts business after they also went into liquidation.

The link between the housing and construction crises and the need for a public builder is clear. By investing in public sustainable housing projects tailored to the needs of our state, a public builder could directly address the shortage of affordable housing. It is the responsibility of government to step in when market failure occurs, and that is what we need to see here in South Australia. At its peak, the South Australian Housing Trust was building almost half of all residential dwellings in South Australia. It is time for the South Australian government to once again play a much more active role.

A public builder would stabilise SA's building industry and provide well-paid jobs and the opportunity to strengthen building standards. More public and affordable homes would mean fewer people being pushed into homelessness and fewer people needing to compete in the private rental market, also making renting more affordable.

As well as constructing new public and affordable homes, a public builder could step in and complete houses that are partially constructed in instances where a builder has gone bust. In those circumstances the state could acquire equity in that individual's home, and it could be paid back over time. There are examples of that in other jurisdictions around the world.

Currently, the housing system relies on contracts with private developers to address the housing demand, including some affordable and social housing within private projects. A publicly owned builder could intervene when companies such as Felmeri or Qattro collapse. By completing the construction of half-finished homes, the government could be then repaid over time.

In the United Kingdom, a program such as this was funded back in 2009. It was known as the Kickstart Homes program. The government then allocated £1 billion to kickstart housing projects that had been stalled during the recession—that was the GFC. The goal was to ensure that jobs were not lost, while unfinished homes could be completed. Developers were given five years to pay back loans, and they were used to complete construction. The program in the UK ensured that a total of 22,050 homes were completed over two rounds between 2009 and 2010.

There are other examples around the world of publicly owned construction companies. Germany has two publicly owned building companies, and Turkey is the same. In South Australia, Renewal SA is the state government's property development agency, but they do not actually do the building work themselves. They rely on private industry agreements to carry out their developments. Again, there is a risk involving these private partners if one of them falls into financial difficulty.

There are examples of that happening. For instance, back in October 2022, Oneconstruct, I understand, went into liquidation while working on a number of homes for the SA Housing Authority, along with school upgrades. Having a public builder would mitigate the risk of private agreements not being fulfilled.

There are other benefits to a public builder as well, such as ensuring construction jobs are considered public sector jobs, with the protections and conditions that come along with that. Of course, let's not forget that there is a backlog of more than $300 million in terms of maintenance works that need to be completed on our public homes. A public builder could step in and ensure that those things are done as a matter of priority. Such a builder would also have significant purchasing power that would be able to reduce costs for building new properties.

This motion calls on the government to investigate this idea from the Greens. I must say the government has a responsibility to step in and help those South Australians who have been left high and dry as a result of this construction crisis. It is not enough to simply say, as the government has said so far, 'Oh well, people need to read the fine print.' It is not enough to simply say, 'Oh well, it's a market matter, and the customer needs to read the fine print.' That is not acceptable. The government needs to show some leadership here.

Let's consider where we are. We have at least four major South Australian construction companies that have gone into liquidation over the last six months. We have hundreds of South Australians who have lost their jobs. We have more than 250 new residential buildings that are incomplete—South Australians left high and dry—and we have unpaid debts of more than $50 million. If this is not an example of market failure, I do not know what is. The Malinauskas government needs to show some leadership here and investigate this idea from the Greens.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.


Industrial Manslaughter Bill passes the Upper House

14 September 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I want to use this opportunity to make a few general remarks about this bill because I have not yet spoken on industrial manslaughter during my time in this parliament. I regard and the Greens regard this as being a really good day for the people of South Australia because finally it appears that this reform, which is long overdue, will pass our state's upper house. It is a reflection, I think, of what this parliament does best—that is, listening to the concerns of the community, responding to their concerns and making laws that are going to change people's lives for the better and that are going to help people. That is fundamentally why we are all here in politics.

I reiterate the comments made by the Attorney-General; that is, good businesses, good employers, those who are doing the right thing by their workers, have absolutely nothing to fear from this reform. This is a positive step that is being taken for workers in our state. I acknowledge the long-term advocacy of the union movement and their passionate advocacy over many years. I know that the Greens have been proud to stand with them in this campaign over many years.

I pay tribute to the work of my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks for her leadership on this issue over the last 10 years or so. As noted by the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Tammy Franks introduced private member's bills on this topic back in October 2010, in May 2015, on 1 May 2019, on 23 September 2020 and on 4 May 2022, so it has now been 13 years since the Hon. Tammy Franks first introduced a private member's bill to address this issue. Indeed, it was Tammy's bill in 2015 that led to an inquiry into the occupational safety rehabilitation and compensation scheme to allow cross-party development of a consensus position.

Might I say that this was a policy commitment that the Greens took to the last state election and that the Labor Party took to the last state election and, I understand, that the SA-Best political party also took to the last state election. There is clearly a mandate from the people of South Australia to see this change made. I understand that some members are seeking to mount the argument that there has not been enough consultation or there has not been enough of an opportunity to consider amendments and the like. I do not accept that. There has been considerable consultation about this reform. There has been a huge amount of public engagement on this issue.

So I do think it is a bit rich for the opposition to suggest, if they are going to, that we are not in a position to deal with this today. This was the party that waved through draconian anti-protest laws with the blink of an eye. In this case, there has been a huge amount of public engagement on this issue over years and years, and it is clear that the people of South Australia want this done. I hope the parliament is going to do that today, and that will be a really good thing for the people of our state.