Monday, 22 February 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020; Second Reading
You should listen, comrade.
In question time today, I was astounded to hear the way in which the Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations dealt with the issue of Uber delivery drivers and the need to guarantee them a minimum wage. I know it's not within the DNA of that minister to understand and address the need of all Australians to have a minimum wage—and to be guaranteed that minimum wage—but I was absolutely astounded today. It demonstrated again the arrogance of the coalition, the don't-care attitude of the Morrison government, in particular, and their total disregard for Australian working people. To try in some way to insinuate that the plight of an Uber delivery driver was something akin to the conditions of an interstate truckie, which is what the minister attempted to do, is just an indictment.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the amendments to the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 which have been put by the opposition. There are two points to our amendment which need to be articulated to give a sense of where this has all come from, which I will try to do. The amendment reads:
… "whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes that for this legislation to pass it should meet the test of providing secure jobs and better pay; and—
you'd think that should be a simple test to pass, but it's not. It's something this bill fails at—
(2) further notes that the bill will make jobs less secure and result in pay cuts".
And that is what it will do.
I'm reminded, as I watch these debates, of what's gone on over the time I've been in this parliament, from the time of the Hawke and Keating governments to our current day. In the period of time that I've observed debates in this place, I have never seen the coalition—whether in opposition or in government—support improving the rights of Australian workers. Never. I've seen them introduce Work Choices and get flogged for it. I've seen them oppose mandatory superannuation. At every turn, they've done everything they possibly could to undermine and weaken the rights of Australian working people and their pay and conditions. This bill is no different.
I think it's probably a measure of the support for this bill and the embarrassment of the government that there have been six contributions, aside from the minister's, from the coalition in this debate—six. If you include the Independents' participation in this debate, the contribution from Labor has been in excess of 30. So 30 members of the Labor Party are committed to protecting and defending the rights of Australian working people, and six members of the government are prepared to come and commit themselves to undermining the rights of working people. I can only assume that the rest either nod sagely and say, 'We agree with them,' or are too embarrassed to stand up, front this parliament and support the government legislation openly, because they know—as you do, Mr Deputy Speaker—that the message to the Australian community is that you cannot trust them. You cannot trust them, because what they will do is everything they possibly can to weaken or take away the rights of Australian working people and diminish their wages.
I don't know how we can possibly accept the propositions that somehow or other this bill will improve the lot of Australian working people, because it simply will not. I've heard the contributions of many of those who have participated in this debate from the Labor side, and I have to say I concur with every one of them, oddly. We don't always agree. Well, that's not true; we always agree once we get in here! But it is true, and I want to applaud all of those Labor members who have made a contribution. It just reinforces the view that we've got a government stuck in an ideological time warp, which is yet again demonstrated by this piece of legislation.
As we know from the contributions of others, this bill makes it easier for employers to casualise jobs that would have otherwise been permanent; it makes bargaining for better pay and conditions more difficult than it already is; it allows wage cuts; it takes rights off blue-collar workers on big projects; and, sadly, it weakens the punishments for wage theft in jurisdictions where it is already deemed a criminal act. Why is it that we can put legislation into this parliament here, now, this year—having experienced the last 12 months of COVID and the sacrifices that Australian working people have made, built on the back of the work which has been done by some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, including Uber drivers, to keep the place afloat—that makes work less secure and cuts pay? Why is it that we don't have measures that create more secure jobs with a prospect of wage rises? I think it must be beyond the wit and wisdom of the government to work it out.
I want to refer if I may to the briefing note that the ACTU have prepared in relation to this legislation, in which they say:
The Bill fails the Government's own test: workers will be worse off … The Government's changes will make jobs less secure; they will make it easier for employers to casualise permanent jobs and allow employers to pay workers less than the award safety net. This is the opposite of what the country needs.
I can absolutely say, 'Hear, hear!' to that. Of course, the bill, as the ACTU has clearly demonstrated, does not represent the consensus outcome from the working group process, which was trumpeted by the government during the last 12 months and which involved the ACTU and employers, around a reasonable way to address the need to change industrial relations—not at all. The government have undermined any prospect of consensus by putting this bill to the parliament.
There are so many elements of this bill that are dreadful, but I won't go through them all. I know others have done it. But I will just make a couple of final observations, noting the time. Secure, well-paid jobs must be the priority of this government during this ongoing and unpredictable pandemic. This bill does entirely the opposite—casualisation, weakening the standards of employment, not guaranteeing minimum wage, not improving productivity and not helping the economy in any measurable way. What we're seeing here is this government, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer in concert with the Minister for Industrial Relations, using this pandemic as an excuse to lower wages and attack super.