People employed under independent contracting arrangements need to have the same protections as the rest of the workforce, following a ruling of the competition watchdog.

Commenting on a media report today, ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the former Howard Government’s industrial relations laws reduced the rights and protections of independent contractors – including truck drivers, cleaners, security guards, tradesmen and IT specialists.

In many cases, employers have required contractors to pay their own workers’ compensation insurance and superannuation contributions, and have had no entitlements to long service leave, annual leave and sick leave. Their protection from unfair dismissal, and ability to collectively bargain for improved pay and conditions was also threatened.

Mr Lawrence said the former Howard Government had encouraged a proliferation of sham contracting, where long-term permanent jobs were outsourced to so-called independent contractors – many of whom were the same people doing the same job but under a different employment arrangement.

“There has been an explosion in outsourcing and contracting over the past decade, but industrial relations laws have failed to keep pace with the changes in the workplace,” Mr Lawrence said.

“Under the Howard Government, tens of thousands of ordinary working people were forced to set themselves up as small businesses providing labour to employers under sham arrangements.

“It is unfair for people are forced to work under arrangements that deny them basic entitlements to superannuation, workers compensation, and leave entitlements. Contractors can be sacked at any time and have no protection from unfair dismissal.

“Contractors should be able to bargain collectively, and choose to be represented by a union, to improve their terms and conditions of employment.”

Mr Lawrence said it also needed to be made easier for workers to take legal action for being forced into an unfair contract.

According to a report in The Australian Financial Review, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has told the Federal Government that contractors are entitled to representation by unions in collective bargaining.

“This advice signals what could be an important step towards ensuring all workers, including contractors are protected by fair laws which protect their rights,” Mr Lawrence said.