House debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Constituency Statements

Workplace Relations

10:18 am

Photo of Justine ElliotJustine Elliot (Richmond, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On many occasions in this house, I have raised the concerns of workers and families on the New South Wales North Coast. They are often very worried about the choices the National Party makes, and how this affects their lives in a very real and often devastating way. As I have often said, National Party choices hurt. Their decision to constantly call for the cutting of penalty rates is potentially harmful for many workers in my area. There have been increasing calls from many Liberal and National Party members for the reduction or abolition of penalty rates for workers, particularly for those in retail and hospitality industries. Locals in my area are concerned that once again their working conditions are under attack from the government's plan to bring back Work Choices. Not only does the Prime Minister want Australians to pay more for everything with a 15 per cent GST, but he also wants them to do it by working for less and with less cash in their pocket, by cutting their penalty rates.

As we know, a few months ago the interim report released by the Productivity Commission confirmed the government's agenda. They are intent on cutting penalty rates, the minimum wage and working conditions. The commission's interim report had proposed a two-tier penalty rate system which would cut the penalty rates of every worker in the hospitality and retail sectors. This is a massive pay cut for those who work in restaurants, cafes and shops, particularly for those in regions like my electorate. It is especially harmful for those in regional and rural areas. The fact is that there is no evidence to show that cutting penalty rates increases employment or productivity. It is simply an attack on workers' wages.

The cutting of penalty rates of thousands of workers in my area would have a devastating effect. The McKell Institute has undertaken research which has found the impact of the loss of penalty rates will fall disproportionately on those working and living in rural and regional areas. The full impact of such cuts to working conditions is highlighted in a report by the McKell Institute, The economic impact of penalty rate cuts on rural NSW. The report found there would be a staggering loss in incomes of $22.6 million a year collectively to the 6,700 retail workers in my electorate of Richmond. Those cuts to penalty rates would represent a 16.6 per cent loss in take-home pay for the average worker in the Richmond electorate. The report also highlighted that cutting penalty rates to retail workers in my electorate would mean a loss of $6.5 million to local businesses. This is a devastating flow-on impact for our local economy. If the government is successful in cutting the penalty rates of hospitality and retail workers, we know who they will be after next: the nurses, the firefighters and the police.

At the last election, I had National Party members in my area running around saying they wanted to see penalty rates slashed, and they continue to say that. Labor will fight those unfair plans. We will fight the National Party's plans to slash the pay and conditions of our local workers, because, rather than a race to the bottom on wages, we believe the government should focus on jobs and economic growth. It should be investing in skills, training, infrastructure and innovation. That should be the direction, not cutting penalty rates. I will continue to support locals in this fight against the National Party's attempts to cut their pay, because, as I have said, it is not just the workers who are impacted by cutting their pay. These people are also the customers of other businesses, so the flow-on effect will be massive to our entire economy. I will stand by our workers in defending their rights to access penalty rates.