Monday, 15 October 2018
Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018; Second Reading
Every day is just another day that working people in this country are being ripped off by a government that doesn't care and is not interested in helping millions of Australians who are seeing their wages go backwards. The facts couldn't be clearer. When inequality is at a 75-year high and wage growth is at an all-time low, what do the government do? They support a cut in penalty rates for 700,000 Australians who, for the past two years, have seen cuts to their take-home pay and who will continue to do so under the Morrison government. This comes off the back of 20 consecutive quarters of falling wage growth in the private sector, where wage growth has now plummeted to just 1.9 per cent. The government will tell you that we have turned a corner on this, but the truth is we are still at all-time historical lows, with workers in this country paying the price for this government's inaction. Under this government, there are no signs that this is going to change anytime soon. In fact, it's only going to get worse.
On the other hand, this important piece of legislation that we're debating today, the Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018, introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, will protect workers' take-home pay in the future. I'm proud to rise today to state unequivocally my support for penalty rates and the protection of take-home pay. On this side of the House our united team is so committed to ensuring Australian workers get a fair go that, if we are privileged to be elected, a Shorten Labor government will in our first 100 days restore penalty rates and legislate so that they can never be cut again. This is in stark contrast to the government, which is led by a Prime Minister who voted eight times to support cuts to penalty rates.
Despite what those opposite think, penalty rates are not a luxury. They are what pay the bills and put food on the table for over 10,000 workers in my electorate, who are losing up to $77 a week. This includes those who work in retail, which is the third-biggest industry in my community, employing 6,976 local workers. A further 3,612 employed in the food and hospitality sector are also feeling the pain of cuts to penalty rates. These are real people who are losing real money under this government.
As the Leader of the Opposition has previously stated, cutting penalty rates means that working people have less money to spend in small businesses, in the shops and in the cafes; cutting penalty rates dampens confidence and deepens inequality; and cutting penalty rates is bad news for young people and bad news for Australian women. At the current pace under this government, Australia is 150 years away from closing the gender pay gap. Those opposite should come down from their shining ivory towers, get out in the community and speak to those who are being affected by these cuts rather than trying to hand out billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to big businesses and the big banks. We know it is in their DNA.
When these cuts to penalty rates first came in I was joined by the member for Bendigo at a community penalty rates forum in Goodna in my electorate of Oxley. We were joined by dozens of workers, who voiced their frustration and disappointment with the LNP government in supporting the decision to cut penalty rates. At the forum we heard from people like Donna, who has fought tooth and nail to put food on the table only to be given a kick in the guts by this government cutting her weekly wage. These are the stories of real people.
Whereas, on the other hand, we have seen members of the government who are living in denial and have been too busy fighting with each other for the past five years to care how this affects everyday Australians. My community does not deserve this. The working men and women of Australia who work on a Sunday deserve their full penalty rates, not a pay cut. What is most insulting to these workers is that the day after these tax cuts first came in the government gave a millionaire a tax cut of $16,400. In my electorate, in places like Redbank and Redbank Plains, people who work in retail and hospitality got a pay cut while millionaires living on the North Shore got a tax cut of $16,000. How on earth is that fair? How on earth can members of the government look anyone in the community in the eye and say, 'We've got your back'? They don't.
The Leader of the Opposition and Labor have not given up on workers. I will not give up on workers in my electorate and I will continue to fight these pay cuts every single day until the election. Today I call on the government to do the right thing. Stop looking at yourselves, stop fighting amongst yourselves and start looking after the workers of this country and making sure that their penalty rates are restored.
It is great to follow the member for Oxley on this very important Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018. The retail industry is the second-largest employment category in Australia and employs 1.2 million people, or one in nine Aussies, and 52 per cent of those workers have absolutely no post-school qualifications. In my electorate of Lindsay the retail trade employs over 12,000 people. These working Australians are relying on penalty rates to survive. The Liberal government's savage cuts to penalty rates mean on average a $77 a week pay cut. More than 75,000 people in my electorate—that is, more than half of my electorate—have jobs that will be affected by these cuts and will continue to be out of pocket. We need to stand up for working people and their conditions. Labor has a proud history of supporting workers.
According to the calculations made by the ACTU, a level 6 cook who works Sunday to Thursday every week will be $1,000 a year worse off. Penalty rates are not a luxury. They put food on the table, pay the bills and fill up the car. Employees who rely on penalty rates to meet their household expenditure are far more likely to be a single parent, a woman, a young person, on an income of less than $30,000 or living in regional Australia. I ask: where are the Nats on this? These penalty rate cuts stand to negatively and disproportionately affect more women and young people. They also pose a huge risk to our local economies and communities. This is simply not good enough.
Under this government, Sunday penalty rates will be cut next year and again the year after that. Make absolutely no mistake: Scott Morrison and the Liberal government support cuts to penalty rates. They voted eight times to support these savage cuts, and they want to take them even further. Currently the industries that are worst affected are retail, hospitality, fast food and pharmacy. We know this government has plans to further slash the wages of ordinary workers, which begs the question: which industry is next? Our living standards are what make this country a great place to live. When our industrial systems are vandalised, these standards are the things that are most at risk. Cuts to penalty rates are exactly that: vandalism of our industrial system and an attack on our living standards.
We keep hearing about Australian workers being ripped off. It is happening everywhere; it is rife. Over the last 12 months, from 15 June to 16 July, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $27 million owed to over 11,000 workers from almost 30,000 allegations of Fair Work Act breaches. These astronomical numbers represent only those instances of underpayment and exploitation that were reported to the ombudsman. How many are not reported?
This Liberal government is so out of touch. It is happier to line the pockets of big business and the big end of town than to give the workers of Australia a fair go. We must do everything we can to fight back, restore these penalty rates and change the rules. For the life of me, I cannot understand why low-paid workers are always in the firing line of this cruel government. How can anyone justify taking money from those who most need it? This shows how out of touch this government really is with the lives of middle- and low-income earners.
The Prime Minister gives millionaires a tax cut and big companies get billion-dollar tax handouts, yet inequality is at a 75-year high. Australia has seen some of the lowest wage rises in 25 years. Cuts to working Australian wages are not emblematic of the Australian 'fair go'. This government has already cut the take-home pay of 700,000 working people across the country with the changes to penalty rates. Considering wages in Australia have been stagnant ever since this government was elected in 2013 under Abbott, then Turnbull and now Morrison—and who knows who's next; it seems like everyone gets a turn over there!—its decisions are a kick in the guts for working people who are already struggling to get by.
This government wants to further undermine workers' rights and their unions. It is the job of the government of the day to alleviate the pain and struggles that everyday Australians face. Pay and conditions are not supposed to stagnate or go backwards, and this is not alleviating the pain or helping the cost of living. People need penalty rates to make ends meet. Every cent counts for so many people across this country, whether it is the working mum who spends weekends away from her family in order to put food on the table or the struggling uni student who, despite juggling work and university commitments, is still eating two-minute noodles for dinner every night. When I was a uni student, I ate frozen veggies because I didn't like the noodles—that's how I survived. Every single cent counts.
Labor will never ever support the undermining of workers' rights and their conditions. Labor understands the value of an extra $77 a week for working Australians and their families. Penalty rate cuts mean less income tax revenue because people are earning less, resulting in more people relying on Centrelink to make ends meet. They also means workers have less money to spend in local shops, restaurants and businesses. Everybody loses under this government. Penalty rate cuts are hurting Australians, and this government must do more. Everybody deserves decent pay and conditions. I encourage everybody to attend the Change the Rules rally on 23 October in Sydney. Join your union, support the campaign and stand up and fight back.