Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Bills

Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017; In Committee

6:48 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

Just let me deal with the principle first. The principle that we are trying to deal with is the principle that the government claims it's trying to deal with, and that is the protection of vulnerable workers. That's the principle. The principle is not about protecting a small business that has written workers off and is stealing their wages. It's about protecting vulnerable workers.

I've been a blue-collar worker, and pay slips are not the only way that a company or a small business can demonstrate its bona fides in terms of that individual worker. The company will have bank statements. Some of those companies will have CCTV. Some companies clock on and clock off. There are a range of things that are not in the control of a vulnerable worker but which are in the control of a small business. They have more opportunity than a vulnerable worker does to prosecute their argument against any case someone brings against them that may not be a genuine case. So there are checks and balances.

There are other checks and balances as well. The Fair Work Ombudsman itself is a check and balance. The Fair Work Commission is a check and balance. So there are other avenues for employers to deal with this. But if they have not got pay slips, which is a breach of the law that this minister brought in and said was such a great thing, if they breach that then the onus of proof should be reversed. The vulnerable worker doesn't have access to the information. The vulnerable worker is the one that's vulnerable. The small business, if it's a genuine small business, will be able to demonstrate its position and, even if it's done the wrong thing, it won't be targeted in an egregious way. That's what's been happening with the Fair Work Ombudsman and enforceable undertakings. So you've got enforceable undertakings, the Fair Work Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman and the records that the company keeps. You've got the clock on/clock off records. You've got CCTV. It's all available to that small business. But the vulnerable worker is vulnerable. The vulnerable worker's the one that's left, mainly on their own, trying to deal with this, and that's an issue. That's why, Senator Xenophon, we say that the concerns you have are genuine concerns but should not stop us from dealing with this in a way that protects that vulnerable worker. The law requires a company to keep pay records and employment records. Small business, big business or massive business—under the law, you must keep pay records and employment records. That's an obligation.

Our amendment applies when an employer has not complied with the law, when they've breached the law. They should have to show why they haven't complied with the law. What is the problem here? I just don't understand it. The reverse onus does not apply if the failure was due to exceptional circumstances beyond the employer's control. The amendment means vulnerable workers in situations where pay slips and employment records haven't been provided have a fair chance of being looked after. This is about vulnerable workers. This is about the law as it stands now. This is about ensuring that wage theft, which is getting bigger and bigger under this minister's watch, is dealt with. It is fair. It's absolutely fair. Wage theft is getting bigger in this country; that is what the submissions to the inquiry say. There are problems here and you fix them by reversing the onus of proof.

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