Thursday, 3 November 2011
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Marshall for his ongoing interest in workplace relations issues. When Labor introduced the Fair Work Act we delivered on our commitment to replace the extreme Work Choices laws with a system that ensures that the dignity and rewards of work are protected.
Work Choices allowed workers to be stripped of basic entitlements and to be fired for any reason or for no reason at all. It encouraged a model of economic growth based on a race to the bottom, where the only way to compete was to undermine the employment safety nets. The Fair Work Act ensures that growth and prosperity in Australia are built on the back of fair and productive work practices.
The Fair Work Act replaced the set of only five minimum conditions provided under Work Choices with a safety net consisting of 10 national employment standards and a system of modern industry awards. Unlike Work Choices the safety net under the Fair Work Act is a real safety net that guarantees protection for basic employment rights. By abolishing the take-it-or-leave-it AWAs, or individual contracts, and requiring that all new agreements be subject to a 'better off overall' test, we have ensured that the safety net cannot be stripped away.
The Fair Work Act is supporting fair industrial relations in this country. We have seen real wages increase over the life of the Fair Work Act as people are treated appropriately, without seeing their conditions stripped away, and have the dignity of proper, fair and balanced industrial relations. The confidence they can have in their employment and their treatment is good for the whole economy, because it allows them to approach life knowing that they will be treated fairly and can make decisions based on expectations of being treated appropriately.
Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise how job security is an essential part of working conditions and how the Fair Work Act is securing job security?
In the last few days we have seen a proposition advanced that, somehow, workers should not be interested in issues of job security. Without job security people cannot plan for their future, whether it is about getting married, buying a house or deciding to start a family. Job security determines whether people can make these sorts of big life decisions. Taking away job security causes people to worry and think twice about these things. They also worry about investing.
The Fair Work Act allows people to address issues of job security with their employer. It has restored unfair dismissal protections and given workers the freedom and flexibility to bargain about issues that are important to them. They get to discuss whether or not their hours of work are maintained and they get to discuss the sort of things that are important to them and their families. Labor is unapologetic about saying that these things ought to be open to workers and their unions— (Time expired)
As we know, the Liberal opposition are committed to a return to Work Choices style legislation. That sort of extremist and ideological legislation saw one in five Australians exposed to being sacked unfairly, without any recourse to fair arbitration. We saw thousands and thousands of workers forced against their will to sign individual contracts. We know the impact of those contracts: 64 per cent of AWAs cut annual leave loading, 63 per cent cut penalty rates, 40 per cent cut rest breaks and 36 per cent cut declared public holidays. That is the sort of approach that the Liberal opposition want to return to. The Labor government is absolutely committed to maintaining the Fair Work Act, maintaining fairness for Australian workers and ensuring that they can enjoy job security and plan for their futures. (Time expired)