House debates

Monday, 3 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Penalty Rates

11:31 am

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Rather than being a motion which undermines the work of Fair Work Australia, as has been said by the member for Tangney, this is a motion which absolutely supports the work of Fair Work Australia and its predecessor, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, since its inception in 1904—because that is what occurred to give rise to penalty rates. That is why am so pleased to speak today in support of the member for La Trobe's motion before the House.

Penalty rates are an acknowledgement of the fact that, when you work other than nine to five, there is a cost. There is a cost to your ability to pursue your personal life, your family life, whatever you choose to do. Working unsociable hours is a more difficult thing to do and comes at a greater cost to people personally than working between nine and five, and that is because, naturally, our society has organised itself around people largely working from nine to five. Therefore, many of the things we enjoy doing in our lives are scheduled outside of those times, which means people miss out in the event they are asked to work outside that spread of hours between nine and five.

Penalty rates acknowledge that and acknowledge that there should be appropriate compensation for that. Obviously, it varies according to how much you are working outside the nine-to-five spread, what day you are working on and the significance of that day. That is how it should be and that has been built up through the process of collective bargaining and the process of arbitration in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and in Fair Work Australia since 1904. It is a very significant part of the way in which we conduct our working lives today. It is also now a part of people's remuneration, forming the basis on which people calculate their take-home pay. When you remove penalty rates, you actually eat in to people's ability to earn a living wage. So penalty rates go really go to the heart of the balance between work and family life in terms of both the hours that you work and the amount you are able to bring home to sustain your family.

The most important defence or safety mechanism that we have to ensure that penalty rates have their appropriate place within our society and within our working arrangements is collective bargaining. Collective bargaining ought to be and is right now at the heart of our industrial relations system—enterprise bargaining to workplace, not centralised wage fixing. Indeed, that is the international norm that we as a member of the International Labour Organization promulgate to the world in terms of how bargaining ought to be conducted, and it is the safeguard of penalty rates in this country. The reason I raise this is that when we see laws put up which seek to undermine collective bargaining, as we did through Australian workplace agreements under the previous Howard government's Work Choices legislation, that is when we see a serious attack on penalty rates and that is, in fact, what occurred.

Most Australian workplace agreements which were signed did something to remove the penalty rate for the worker. It is a system which encourages people to bargain away long-fought gains which have been achieved over decades through collective bargaining and through arbitration. That is the great concern about a legislated scheme of individual contracts, which is what we saw with Australian workplace agreements and what, in the policy announced by the Tony Abbott opposition, would come into being were they ever to achieve government in this country. The centrepiece of what they are about, as always, is to remove enterprise bargaining as the centrepiece of our industrial relations system and replace it with a legislated individual contract agreed between a worker and their company. In no other place in our economy do we see such a discrepancy in bargaining power enshrined in our law as we saw with Australian workplace agreements and as we will see again if ever there is a coalition government which puts forward the policy Tony Abbott is talking about. It puts one person totally at the mercy of another. There is no unfairer place in Australia's system of law and it will lead to a reduction of penalty rates.


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