Union delegates met with coal miners and Whitlam MP Stephen Jones over a beer at Mount Kembla Village Hotel on Friday, to celebrate a long awaited bill going to Federal Parliament which would stop businesses ripping-off workers.
The Closing The Loophole bill seeks to criminalise wage theft, bolster protections for gig workers, create a pathway for casuals to become permanent, end discrimination against survivors of domestic violence and stop companies using labour hire workers to undercut the rate of pay agreed for employees.
The proposed laws entered the lower house on Monday and affect all industries from coal mining to hospitality, aviation and the gig economy.
Ashleigh Mounser, who helped lift the lid on a mass wage theft scandal in 2016, said she was excited employers could finally be "accountable" for their actions.
As a university student, Ms Mounser worked a slew of "trials" for various Wollongong businesses who would only pay her $10 an hour.
"[When I spoke out] there was no incentive not to do it again and no one to enforce it," she said.
"It's exciting now to see it will be enforced and actually hold employers accountable instead of taking advantage of young people."
Rob Moran, a 59-year-old coal miner, was equally excited and was living proof change was needed.
He's worked in coal mining for 13 years and only secured a permanent - though still contract - position in recent years.
"This is coal mining all around Australia, this is the business model that ... everyone has taken up because they can, because of the lack of laws," Mr Moran told the Mercury.
"They hire contractors because they can have their way with them and then just get rid of them if they cause problems.
"I look at guys that are coming into the industry at 20 years old and they've got their whole life in front of them ... it's terrible."
Of the 3,500 workers in the Southern District coal industry, almost half are labour hire contractors who are commonly paid tens of thousands of dollars less than permanent employees doing the same job, many without leave entitlements, said Andy Davey, secretary of the Mining and Energy Union (South Western District).
Stephen Jones agreed: "I think Australia is a better place than one that says 'productivity and growth is all about exploiting people on a push bike'; It's about fair go."
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said businesses had been bending the rules for too long, and cheated workers in all sectors for too long.
If the proposed legislation passes the lower house, it will move to the Senate and be subject to an inquiry which would come back in February.
Mr Jones said he expected it to pass through parliament in some form in 2024.
The unions intend to hold more "politics in the pub" gatherings including events at the University of Wollongong and in Port Kembla until the new laws finally pass through parliament.
- with Australian Associated Press
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