House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016


Workplace Relations

9:00 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Charlton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to draw to the attention of the House the Turnbull government's radical right-wing workplace relations agenda. Let us be clear: this agenda is fundamentally un-Australian. Whether it be cutting penalty rates, re-establishing the ABCC or supporting companies in sacking workers because they are Australian, the Turnbull government's approach is extreme, ideological and completely out of touch with the expectations of working people.

Australians are fundamentally decent. We are rightly proud of living in the land of the fair go. When it comes to working on weekends or unsocial hours, Australians have a fair expectation that they will be properly remunerated with penalty rates. The Turnbull government's plan to abolish penalty rates is shameful. The Minister for Employment, Senator Cash, confirmed last week that cutting penalty rates is firmly back on the table. At a time when wages growth is at its lowest in 20 years, the Liberals want to cut the wages of ordinary Australians even further by abolishing penalty rates.

Let's be clear: Labor oppose this policy. Retail workers, hospitality workers, nurses, police and emergency service personnel all deserve fair penalty rates. It is a fairly basic proposition, and an overwhelming number of Australians agree with it. If you work weekends, when most people are relaxing, catching up or spending time with family and friends, it is only right that you receive penalty rates. That is the Australian way. Labor's approach is fundamentally different from the government's. Rather than cutting people's wages and living standards, we believe that government should invest in skills and training, innovation and infrastructure.

I briefly want to discuss the government's attempt to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which has already been rightly rejected by the parliament. Labor's position on the ABCC has been consistent for a decade. We do not support this body, and we especially reject providing a civil tribunal with extraordinary coercive powers which would force workers to provide evidence without legal representation. Labor firmly reject corruption and criminal conduct in the workplace and everywhere else. However, when there are allegations of criminal conduct, they should be investigated by the appropriate criminal authorities, not a civil tribunal, albeit one with extraordinary powers. It should also be noted that, before it was abolished, not one criminal prosecution arose out of the work of the ABCC. There is no justification for the ABCC to be re-established. Labor will stand firm against the government's warped ideological agenda.

Finally, I again want to draw to the attention of the House the government's shameful conduct in aiding and abetting corporations in sacking workers for being Australian in order to employ foreign workers to do the same jobs. In 2016, a worker should not be sacked because they are Australian. But that is exactly what happened to workers on the MV Portland and the CSL Melbourne. Their employers have been issued licences by the Deputy Prime Minister which have enabled these companies to sack their Australian workers and employ foreign workers in their place. What is the result of this? It is flag-of-convenience ships with foreign workers being paid foreign wages under foreign workplace standards doing exactly the same work that Australians had previously done.

The workers who have been sacked are ordinary Australians. They have families, they have mortgages and they have commitments. Because of the Turnbull government's unconscionable collusion with their employers, they are now unemployed. The licenses for so-called temporary work on what are in fact permanent trade routes that the government has provided these companies should never have been issued, and the government should cease this disgraceful conduct which is deliberately hurting Australian workers. If it is fair to pay Australian wages to Australian truckies driving Australian registered trucks on the M1 motorway, why isn't it fair to pay Australian workers Australian wages on Australian flagged vessels that sale our Australian coastal routes? It is the thin end of the wedge. It is a slippery slope, and this government is pursuing this for ideological reasons.

These are three examples of the government's disgusting approach to workplace relations and the contempt they have for ordinary workers. If you work unsocial hours or on weekends, you should be properly remunerated. Labor will protect penalty rates. No worker should be forced to give evidence without legal representation, and allegations of criminal conduct should be dealt with by criminal authorities. Finally, no worker should be sacked for being Australian. This is just plain wrong.

I end tonight where I started. Australians are fundamentally decent. They believe in a fair go and that their fellow Australians are entitled to a fair go in the workplace. Unfortunately, they will not get this from the Turnbull government.