Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
The government's proposed workplace relations changes are a set of modest and sensible reforms aimed at putting more Australians into jobs. Since December last year, Labor and the ACTU have been in lockstep in their efforts to misrepresent the government's workplace relations reforms. This week, with parliament's resumption, we're seeing Labor, the unions and their left-wing fellow travellers overreach on a baseless scare campaign; a campaign that, if successful, will frustrate the COVID economic recovery.
So let's make no mistake, here today we have the Labor Party putting perceived political advantage ahead of reforms that will help this country recover economically from the COVID pandemic. As we've shown throughout the pandemic, the government are constructive and pragmatic when it comes to industrial relations policy. We focused on measures to regrow jobs, boost wages, enhance productivity, doing so in the same cooperative spirit the country so successfully embraced in our approach to the pandemic. We have done this through extensive consultation with unions and with industry, aiming to bring people together rather than to divide them.
What the country doesn't need is more attempts by the Labor Party to turn workplaces into battlegrounds for their own political advantage. We'd hoped that 2021 would see the Labor Party adopt a more mature approach to industrial relations. The government's IR reform package addresses known problems with our industrial relations system and Labor's Fair Work Act. These reforms will not only support wage growth and help regrow the jobs lost in the pandemic, they will tackle broader issues like underemployment, job security, underpayment of wages and the failure of Labor's enterprise bargaining system to drive wages on productivity growth. Even Paul Keating has reflected on the need for changes to the industrial relations system.
In opposing the government's entire IR reform bill, Labor is against tougher civil and new criminal penalties to stamp out wage theft. Does Labor want underpaying employers to continue without criminal penalties? Is Labor against a quicker way to recover underpayments where they occur? On ABC radio in December last year, the member for Watson said vulnerable workers getting their money back quickly has to be the highest priority. Now, in opposing the entire bill, Labor doesn't want to make it easier to recover unpaid wages—so much for that being the highest priority. Is Labor against a quicker enterprise agreement approval process through the Fair Work Commission to help deliver pay rises more quickly? Back in May, the member for Watson said, 'Bargaining is much harder at the moment and taking much longer than it should. Policies that get bargaining moving again are going to be really important. You know, I don't think anyone says every rule that's there at the moment should remain unchanged.' Well, now it's Labor saying 'block everything and change nothing'. Would Labor prefer we continue to see 100-day-plus delays before agreements and pay rises take effect? Is Labor against the opportunity for more hours of work for the almost 30 per cent of part-time employees in the retail sector and the about 40 per cent of the part-time employees in the accommodation and food services sector who want more hours but aren't getting them? Stronger conversion rights for casual employees who want to become full-time or part-time employees are part of these reforms that Labor is going to block in their entirety. By blocking this legislation, Labor is saying that it wants casual workers to remain casual, even if they'd prefer permanent roles. Is Labor against more job opportunities by providing certainty for mega job-creating projects on greenfield sites?
The Morrison government's supporting Australia's jobs and economic recovery package will give businesses the confidence to get back to growing and creating jobs and will provide the tools to help employers and employees work together in a post-COVID Australia. These vital reforms to the industrial relations system build on the various economic supports provided by the government during the pandemic. We're driven by one simple goal: breaking down barriers to jobs growth so that we can get more Australians back into the workforce. These reforms were developed after extensive consultation with employer and employee groups who sat down with the government for more than 120 hours to find innovative solutions to support struggling businesses as well as protect and enhance the rights of workers. The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 is the end of this process. Much of our industrial relations system has been built on pitting one group against the other. This pandemic has taught us that we can achieve far more by working together. When we make the move from conflict to cooperation, we are able to solve the complex problems that we must solve to see more jobs, better-paying jobs and higher wages. That's exactly what the Morrison government's industrial relations reforms will aim to achieve.
All parties in the parliament must put the interests of Australian workers first, ahead of their traditional, ideological positions. But we're seeing false claims by those opposite. Labor are prepared to say anything in order to get some traction in a policy area where they believe they have some equity. In question time yesterday, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition claimed that retailers had cited the government's workplace changes when making a proposal he claimed would lead to workers earning more than $57,000 losing penalty rates and overtime. The National Retail Association yesterday slammed these claims, stating in a media release:
NRA CEO … said it was very disappointing to see numerous federal Labor frontbenchers, including Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, blatantly misrepresent retailers in a bid to land a political blow against the government.
The media release further states:
"Our exemption rate proposal is entirely opt-in and allows employers and workers to mutually agree on a wage 25 per cent higher than the weekly minimum wage. In exchange for the higher wage—
would see exemptions to complex rostering rules with accompanying safeguards. Rather than a paycut, this arrangement would see most managers receive a pay rise of $13,000 per annum.
Further, the National Retail Association confirms:
"Should the FWC grant the proposal, it will be because it views it in accordance with the industrial standards set down by the Rudd-Gillard Government of which Mr Albanese was a senior Cabinet Minister."
But will those opposite withdraw their false and misleading allegations? I wouldn't hold your breath.
Today's MPI also coincides with the release of a briefing paper by the Greens front, that production line of bogus research, the Australia Institute. It's no surprise. This briefing paper argues that the government's changes will accelerate the making of non-union enterprise agreements, further suppressing wage growth. The author of this briefing paper is senior economist at the Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work, Alison Pennington. Before joining the left-wing Australia Institute, Ms Pennington worked as a national organiser for the Community and Public Sector Union. Ms Pennington's briefing paper is not some rarefied academic analysis. She's out there on Twitter trying to create a storm, trying to scare workers. No doubt we can look forward to some typically non-objective advertising from the Australia Institute to follow as well, to push these false claims, further eroding their credibility, if that's possible.
It's not just the Australia Institute; the union movement have laid the groundwork for this overreach that we're now seeing from those opposite. The Stop the Bus Campaign from the Electrical Trades Union and the CFMEU shows Prime Minister Scott Morrison driving a speeding bus towards a group of workers. The Australian Chamber of Commerce has blasted the ad. It's reprehensible and irresponsible. The unions' latest attack ad on the government's IR bill is not only contrary to community standards but also entirely misleading. Political debate is one thing, but the unions putting out ads of buses running over workers is reprehensible. Having such imagery shown on television in an era when we know vehicles are used by terrorists to run down and mass murder innocent civilians is truly shameful. But, doubling down in a joint statement, the unions have failed to recognise this and they will not pull these ads. So, while Labor rails against modest, sensible reforms which will help build jobs, we will continue to help the economy grow jobs so that more Australians can benefit from that.