House debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2018



7:29 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to discuss the issues of gender pay equity. It seems now that the government wants to talk about some improvements in narrowing the gap between men's and women's wages in the country, and I think it's important for the record that we make it very clear that there is long way to go. It seems we've had one very modest upturn in wages, with private sector wages most recently ascribed as 2.1 per cent. Well, 2.1 per cent in modern Australian economic terms is very low wage growth. It's not sufficient to ensure that people can keep up with cost-of-living pressures. For that reason, to listen to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer starting to boast about wages increasing, given that they've presided over the lowest wage growth in this country in more than 25 years, is quite remarkable.

The reality is that wage growth has been stagnating. In many sectors of our economy we have wages falling in real terms. Frankly, one of the reasons why we've seen any narrowing of the gap between men's and women's wages is that there's been wage suppression, wage repression and, some would argue, wage oppression. The fact is we've got too few opportunities for people to have their wages grow. You've seen too many forms of exploitation in the labour market. We're seeing systemic underpayment in some sectors of our economy. We're seeing a government willing to support a decision to cut penalty rates, which is really cutting real income from up to 700,000 retail and hospitality workers.

Low-paid, hardworking Australians are getting real cuts because this government refuses to support Labor and back our private member's bill to restore penalty rates as they were before 30 June last year. That is a crying shame. It's not really good enough for the Treasurer, the Prime Minister or, indeed, this government to boast about wage growth when, in fact, we've seen how little wages have grown and how much pressure it's placed on household budgets.

The fact is that household debt is growing remarkably and becoming more of a problem for people. Indeed, household lending is being relied upon because wages are not keeping up with cost-of-living pressures. Paying the mortgage, paying the rent, paying for school uniforms, putting petrol in the car—these essential day-to-day living expenses—are becoming more difficult for too many of our fellow Australians, and all we hear from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer is that they can now boast that wages are growing. Frankly, there is not sufficient evidence to suggest we are out of the woods with respect to wage growth. It is the lowest wage growth, as I say, in a generation and is compounded by the government's obstinacy in not supporting Labor's position to restore penalty rates and, of course, in not tackling exploitation in the labour market.

The most obvious example of that, of course, is the huge scale of underpayments by 7-Eleven, which is estimated to have refused to pay their workforce up to $150 million. Unfortunately, 7-Eleven is not a one-off. 7-Eleven is certainly a huge example, but increasingly we're seeing the failure to comply with the awards and enterprise agreements; therefore, we're seeing people suffer as a result.

On top of that, you are seeing insecure work. Again, the government likes to argue there is no such thing as insecure work and we haven't had any changes to the labour market for the last 20 years. What tosh from Josh when the Treasurer said that—

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Gorton will refer to members by their correct titles or I will sit him down.

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed. The fact is that the labour market is changing. We've seen significant changes. We've seen the misuse of labour hire, where you have labour hire workers standing next to direct employees and being paid up to $200 a week less but still doing the same work. We've seen the abuse of casualisation, where people are working on permanent rosters year in, year out yet not given any sense of permanency at work. They're not provided any security of employment. That is unfair. We're seeing sham contracting arrangements, where workers are deemed to be businesses so they don't have to pay them the minimum wage. They actually pay them $7 or $8 an hour to deliver food from one outlet to a consumer. This sort of behaviour, this problem that's besetting the labour market, is not being attended to by this government. They can continue to boast about wage increases, but the reality is they're not happening and more needs to be done to help workers in this country. (Time expired)