Empowering the Freelance Economy

Australia-UK FTA Signed, boon for freelancers

Photo by Catarina Sousa from Pexels
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Freelancers, contractors and highly skilled professionals from the UK, including lawyers, will now be able to work in Australia temporarily and Aussie firms will no longer have to prioritise hiring Australian nationals first. The benefits are also reciprocal for Australians looking to work in the UK.

🎙️Having worked, lived and set up businesses in both the UK and Australia, we sit down with Australian IT contractor and recruitment tech entrepreneur Nick Woodward to get his advice and thoughts on the job prospects for freelancers and contractors in both nations in a Q&A below.


Photo by Rijan Hamidovic from Pexels

An ambitious bilateral free trade agreement has been signed off that will help pave the way for the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which could open up even more opportunities for freelancers and contractors in 11 countries.

The FTA benefits include:

  • tariff free trade for all British goods
  • easier for Brits to travel and work in Australia
  • enhanced access for British tech companies
  • greater opportunities for UK professionals in Australia
  • boost for UK services industries
  • slashing red tape for entrepreneurs and small business
  • access to billions of pounds worth of procurement contracts
  • stronger cooperation on shared challenges
  • paves the way to CPTPP which includes: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam

What does the UK-Australia FTA change?

In the past, UK citizens under age 30 could get a visa to work in Australia for three years if they spent three months working in farming, fishing, mining or construction. The new agreement not only raises the age limit to 35, it eliminates the manual-work requirement.

A new agriculture visa will be established to permit people to work on farms in either country. Australian firms will no longer have to prioritize hiring Australian citizens first under the new agreement. This is a game-changer.

The agreement will also provide an ​opportunity for Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) to stay in the UK and Australia for up to three years, with no requirement to undertake “specified work”. Negotiations have not yet concluded, however, it is anticipated that these changes will be made within five years if not sooner.

The UK’s Youth Mobility programme, for example, already allows young Australians to stay in the UK with unrestricted work rights for up to two years. Australia has previously negotiated arrangements on a reciprocal basis with Canada, France and Ireland to expand the eligible age range for WHM applicants to between 18-35 years.

Other partner country arrangements under the WHM programme are established through bilateral negotiations and will not be affected by the Australia and UK Free Trade Agreement.

If enough highly skilled freelancers and contractors over the age limit make a stance on lifting the age limit, could we see even more benefits open up for both nations?

Greater job opportunities for UK professionals in Australia

According to the UK government, UK lawyers will be able to practice in Australia without having to requalify as an Australian lawyer. The deal will help facilitate the recognition of UK professional qualifications across many sectors, creating opportunities for UK professionals while allowing British companies to attract and retain global talent

Professionals will benefit from provisions to support mutual recognition of qualifications and greater certainty for skilled professionals entering the UK labour market.

Slashing red tape for entrepreneurs and small business

Red tape and bureaucracy will be torn down for more than 13,000 small businesses across the length and breadth of the UK that already export goods to Australia. The agreement will deliver quicker export times and ensure small businesses have access to new intelligence that will better allow them to seize the opportunities created by the deal.

Paves the way to CPTPP

Australia strongly supports UK membership of CPTPP, which could open up 11 Pacific markets worth £9 trillion GDP (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam). CPTPP membership will secure British exports “superior access” to these growing markets, approximately two-thirds of middle-class consumers expected to be in Asia by 2030.

Enhanced access for British tech companies

The deal will create opportunities for the UK’s digital and tech sectors, such as AI, space exploration and low emissions technology. The deal, with the world’s first-ever innovation chapter, will facilitate the free flow of data, saving UK businesses from the cost of setting up servers in Australia, whilst maintaining personal data protections standards for British consumers.

Q&A with Nick Woodward, IT contractor and founder of ETZ

Nick Woodward, IT Contractor and Recruitment Tech Entrepreneur

Q: What advice would you give UK freelancers and contractors in light of this news? 

A: I think it should provide a terrific opportunity for freelancers and contractors from the UK. The contract market in the UK is significantly more diverse than in Australia. This has been largely due to the UK having a larger contract market and therefore more opportunities than in Australia.

I think UK contractors/entrepreneurs will have a tremendous opportunity with access to capital from the UK and opportunities to be exploited in a moribund Australian economy. I believe that UK workers, contract or permanent, will provide a much needed stimulus to the Australian economy through the export of ideas and capital.

Q: Will this be an opportunity for UK contractors to stay self-employed? And if so, what might that look like in Australia? 

A: Australia does not have the same tax regime as the contentious IR35 that we have in the UK. The Australian government made it impossible to run personal service companies to achieve a tax advantage quite a long time ago. It means you will end up paying the same amount of tax regardless, therefore there is no umbrella company industry as there is in the UK.

Since Australia does not have an equivalent IR35 regulation, contractors will end up in fixed-term employment contracts and will be taxed through a PAYG scheme.

Q: Could this create an even larger skills gap for the UK? Or do you envisage skilled Australians may look to move to the UK to balance that out? 

A: I believe that the skills gap will balance itself out. Australia is a great place to work with an enhanced work-life balance and I believe that will be what attracts UK contractors.

For Australian contractors coming to London, it will mainly be about earning extra money if the GBP remains high against the AUD comparatively and taking advantage of IR35 to enhance their savings.

With regard to the technology industry which is always a struggle to acquire skilled developers, the UK will provide a plethora of job opportunities and access to a buoyant and dynamic FinTech market. The opportunity to become a FinTech entrepreneur is much greater than being in Australia.

The amount of capital invested into the UK and Europe market is enormous when compared to the minuscule Australian technology industry. In my opinion, it doesn’t help that the current right-wing Liberal government is bereft of any industry policies apart from the maintenance and growth of the coal industry. With an election due in early 2022 things may change, except that the Labour Party are not much of an alternative, they are also a policy-free zone! A hung parliament with a Greens/Independent coalition holding the balance of power is a more likely outcome.

Useful links:

Explore visa options work (homeaffairs.gov.au)

How to Work Legally As a Freelancer in Australia – ByteScout

💬 Reader Question: By imposing an age limit will it stifle each nation’s ability to access the on-the-ground talent and experience they really need? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section.

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