House debates

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Workplace Relations

4:06 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The previous speaker just outlined exactly what employers argue. How often do we hear big business and employers talk about wanting to bring in these reforms for flexibility? What that usually means for a lot of workers is: 'We're going to cut your pay.' Quite often the term 'flexibility' is used to cover up. It's HR-speak, employer-speak, big-business-speak for cutting wages. I'm actually quite shocked that the government continue to pretend that the bill they've put before the House doesn't cut wages. It's like they think that if they say it into the mirror enough times then maybe the mirror will say: 'Yes, you're right. It's true.' They think that if they say it enough the Australian people will start to believe them. They won't, because many on the government frontbench, when they were advisers, have form.

What examples are there in the legislation before the parliament of the government actually trying to cut wages? First of all, there are the changes to the BOOT. It's called the better off overall test for a reason. When you negotiate an agreement in good faith, that agreement must not undercut or be lower than the minimum award rate. It's as simple as that. Guess what it means if you pause the BOOT, scrap the BOOT, weaken the BOOT or give an employer the opportunity to opt out of that minimum floor? It means you are cutting wages. This proposal by the government is so radical it actually goes further than what a previous coalition government did with WorkChoices. It says that you don't have to compensate in any way. You can just do it if you can claim you were somehow affected by the pandemic. Can I remind the government that they have one person on their frontbench saying: 'Everything is good; let's get back to work. Conditions are good. Business is booming.' That's the Treasurer. That's why they can scrap JobKeeper and force people on JobSeeker back onto the Newstart rate. On the other hand, they say businesses are doing it so tough that they should be allowed to lower wages below the minimum standard. That's pay cut example No. 1.

Pay cut example No. 2 will come as a surprise to a lot of workers who are on an award. Not only do they want to force you to work for rates below the award if you're on an agreement; they also want to see your wages cut in modern awards if you pick up extra work. Flexible part time is something that is negotiated. Voluntary overtime is something that is negotiated and is in a lot of agreements. However, these agreements are negotiated in good faith between employers and employees, and in these cases the workers are on higher wages—they bargain up. What this proposal does is to allow bargaining down. It allows employers to offer extra shifts to their existing workers who are part time at the same rate. That's not the overtime rate but the same ordinary rate. There's no compensation. There's no ability for these workers to get extra. What is being proposed by this government is a straight-out pay cut, and it has done it before. Let's not forget the cuts to penalty rates that occurred under this government—a straight cut to the award, where we saw workers in hospitality and other industries lose money. Those pay cuts mean that those workers today are earning less than they did for doing the exact same work.

Let's also not forget that it is the government that is trying to support business with the casual rate rorts. The unions won the case against casual rate rorts, where workers doing a permanent roster weren't being paid the proper full-time rates; they were being paid the casual rates. They weren't being paid their proper entitlements; they were being paid the casual rates so that companies could pay them less. Unions took the case to court, won the case and now, retrospectively, the government is trying to change the rules to claw back that money, to give these workers another pay cut. This government has form when it comes to industrial relations. Its bill and this matter of public importance are about the fact that all the government really cares about is cutting wages. Not only is it economically dumb; it will also see thousands of workers forced to live on less money, making our recovery even— (Time expired)


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