Monday, 22 March 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021; Consideration of Senate Message
I want to take the opportunity in this debate to talk about the real impact that this legislation, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021, is having and the government's approach to industrial relations.
The real impact hit home to me two weeks ago when I, along with the shadow minister and the member for Hotham, attended the McCormick's site in the member for Hotham's electorate in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. There we met with people on the picket line of the United Workers Union. There we met workers who have worked on that site for decades—workers who work day shift and night shift, largely from migrant backgrounds, who have come to Australia for a better life for themselves and their families. Do you know what? They have not had a pay increase for five years—in five years, not a dollar! They are working there to provide products that everyday Australians can enjoy. They produce the gravy that goes to KFC. They produce some of the sauces that go to McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. Those workers proudly produce a range of products in the member for Hotham's electorate.
These men and women are working hard each and every day, and their patience has run out. It's not surprising because the deal that the company has on the table is again for zero dollars, unless they give up more conditions as part of the changes that the company wants. That's because the company knows that the government is on their side, not on the workers' side. I was there with the member for Hotham and the shadow minister, the member for Watson, to say to those workers, 'We are on your side.' I committed to those workers on that day that I would raise their issues in this parliament on their behalf. I make this pledge on behalf of the Australian Labor Party that we want to see wages increase for working people; that we understand that that is good for our economy; that we want more secure work, not less secure work, as is provided for in this legislation; that we do want to outlaw wage theft; and that we do want to address the existing power imbalance.
But this government is pursuing this mean-spirited legislation that is bad not only for individual workers but for all workers. This government says that, if we address insecure work, it's complicated to pay people the minimum wage of $19.84 an hour. I launched a report at the Labour Council of New South Wales last Friday. There, I met Mr Wong, a person who has worked on farms and who has come to Australia from the Mongolian province of China for a better life. He came here because he thought that Australia was the land of the fair go, where he would be treated decently. What we have in this country is people across a range of industries not even being paid the minimum wage. That's not complicated. What a lost opportunity—an industrial relations omnibus bill which should have made work more secure and which should have provided for increased wages and increased good outcomes for business as well. We actually had last week an extraordinary press conference with Mr Strong from COSBOA and the Secretary of the ACTU, Sally McManus, saying we have agreed on what's good for small business and good for workers, yet this government rejects all of that for this narrow, mean-spirited, vindictive, childish, petulant legislation that is before us today.