Aussie MP Rejects ‘Massive Tax’ for Businesses in State’s Sick Leave Program

Aussie MP Rejects ‘Massive Tax’ for Businesses in State’s Sick Leave Program
Australia's Attorney-General Christian Porter during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on Sept. 3, 2020. (David Gray/Getty Images)

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter has taken aim at Victoria’s offer of five days sick and carer’s leave for casual workers in high-risk industries.

The state government will spend $5,000,000 (US$3,650,000) on a pilot program to fund leave for industries including aged care, cleaning, hospitality and security.

After federal Labor and unions backed the plan, the coalition government swiftly rejected it.

Porter said the Victorian proposal started with a government-funded pilot before moving to a “massive tax” on businesses.

“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?” he said.

He flagged making it easier for casuals to move to permanent roles, which is expected to be part of the government’s industrial relations reforms.

The two-year pilot will be state-government funded but an industry levy would be introduced if it continues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted issues with casual workers being infected with the disease as they worked across multiple jobs and sites.

Labor’s industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said Victoria was showing leadership while the Morrison government had failed to act.

“Scott Morrison still doesn’t seem to get that insecure work is a problem in Australia,” he said.

“Once again, the states have been forced to act because Mr Morrison and Christian Porter have failed to do so.”

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief James Pearson said the Victorian government was attempting to redefine casual work.

“It sets a worrying precedent which could lead to businesses, many of which are family and small operations, having to pay more for casuals,” he said.

Pearson said governments should provide a community-rated safety net payment not linked to wages, or any particular role of employment.

“Casual workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 should be encouraged to maintain single-employment engagement and to stay home when unwell,” he said.

Matt Coughlan