House debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Grievance Debate


5:01 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a lot of talk in this place about jobs. The Prime Minister has declared that he will create 1.25 million jobs. Australians have the right to be sceptical and call him on that if we look at this government's track record, the jobs that have been created so far in the last six years and what's actually happening in employment, in the jobs sector and in industrial relations more broadly. Today the gig economy exists, with the impacts that that is having on the jobs that are being created. Today the Minister for Women referred to the greater number of women who are now working. More women are working, yes. That is a fact. Partly it is because we have more people in Australia, so therefore, by percentages, we have more women working. But we need to consider the nature of the work that women are engaged in. An unfortunate development that has coincided with the introduction of the NDIS has been the creation of zero-hour contracts. Once upon a time, people working in this sector, many of them women, were working for one organisation, working part time or full time. Today, when you chat to a lot of people working in this sector, you find they're no longer just working for one company; they're working for, quite possibly, three. They may be signed up with three agencies with zero-hour contracts. They're not guaranteed a set number of hours, and, therefore, are having to work for three agencies. That could be counted as three jobs, when clearly it's not even enough to make one full-time job.

This morning I got the opportunity to meet with seafarers on the lawns out at the front of Parliament House. Once upon a time the shipping industry was a proud industry for Australia. These were good jobs, generational jobs. A number of the seafarers I met talked about how their father was a seafarer and their grandfather was a seafarer, but they don't know if there will be seafaring jobs for their children. They've been sacked by some big multinational companies. They export coal. They're proud of that fact. But they've been replaced with a foreign crew. If only we could focus on those jobs. They are some of the 1.25 million jobs that we could create in this country. Those people would like to be at work today but they were here. They were here for question time and they were out on the lawns, because their jobs no longer exist. There has been a really sad development in Australia, in our economy and in our broader society, where we have employers and industry for the first time in many generations viewing people not as workers, not as people in our community, but as commodities of labour—a unit price on a balance sheet. Time and time again, we are seeing industry and employers go for the cheapest price.

In this country, we have a growing problem with underemployment. I referred to the women who are working in NDIS as well as a number of other industries, forced to sign up to two or three agencies to try and make up that full-time or part-time job.

We have a problem with casualisation in our country, whether you call it casualisation or labour hire. People who were once directly employed are sacked, only to be offered their job back with the labour hire company. And far too often it's on less money.

This week we also acknowledge that it's 600 days since that happened in Gippsland at the Longford gas plant, where ExxonMobil sacked, through their contractor, all of their local workforce—people who were living in Gippsland, living in Sale and living in Longford—and replaced them with a predominantly fly-in fly-out or drive-in drive-out workforce, paying them much less.

This isn't the only place. It's been happening throughout our resources sector. It's a problem in mining in Queensland. It's the reason why Labor were motivated to announce our policy about same job, same pay—to at least guarantee that two workers standing side-by-side doing the exact same job with the exact same responsibilities would be paid the same.

Sure, there will be a need for some labour hire or casualisation in fluctuations, but it should not be every job at a workplace. Casualisation and labour hire have always been regarded as that extra you need during a peak period. Today, labour hire has become the norm, and this is why there are growing concerns amongst workers, communities and industry about the way in which labour hire is being misused in our country.

I also want to highlight—as we've been on a break, in coming back—that the other major problem that's occurring is the gross underpayment of so many workers. It's as if today, if you're a young person, you have to accept that your first job will be a job where you're underpaid and exploited. We just have to look to some of the reports in our media about how widespread the underpayment of Australian workers is.

I want to start by acknowledging that this is really just the tip of the iceberg. These are people that workers have either pursued individually through the courts or pursued through their union, or the Fair Work Ombudsman has pursued these employers for not paying people properly. A Sydney hair salon owner was penalised $77,000 for underpaying a teenage apprentice in her first job. She underpaid the teenage apprentice more than $14,000. That was reported just today.

A Sydney pub empire underpaid staff by $100,000. In this claim, 31 former workers complained of being underpaid. The worker who organised them was sacked for organising them to speak out about their underpayment. That was reported on 5 February.

On 1 February it was reported that an Indian cook who recently was in a legal battle with a former employer for being underpaid $90,000 was looking like he was going to be deported, after his 457 visa was cancelled. He was found to be driving taxis before and after working at the Indian restaurant. When you're underpaid so significantly, it's no wonder you've taken out a second job. That case is still before the courts.

Sushi outlets, another case that hit the media in January and in February, underpaid workers $694,000. Ninety-four workers across the outlets had been underpaid from April 2015 to July 2016. This is just a short period. How long has this underpayment gone on for? In this case, the Fair Work Ombudsman is involved and working with these workers and with the department because many of them have question marks over their visas. Some of them are here as international students; others are here on backpacking holidays. We know all too well in this place that there is too much exploitation of people who are guest workers. Also, today it has been reported that Rebel Sport, Supercheap Auto and Macpac underpaid store managers about $32 million over the past six years by not applying overtime rates properly. Another one to highlight is Melbourne's Crown casino's 24-hour cafe, which has been fined by the Fair Work Ombudsman for breaching the Fair Work Act by underpaying 54 workers a combined total of $73,000.

These are significant amounts, and for these workers who are being underpaid it is the difference between paying your rent on time or being able to put petrol in your car. But this is a deliberate act by some of these employees, who have not worked with the Fair Work Ombudsman when notified of their breaches. Everyone accepts that the award system and agreements can be complicated. But, if you're notified by Fair Work of a breach, you should act to address it. But, in these cases, and in so many others, it has happened. This is theft. If it were an employee stealing from an employer, there'd be an investigation by the police, there'd be a possible prosecution and that particular worker could end up in jail. Yet, in this country, it is a civil matter if an employer rips off an employee.

There are so many challenges that we have in the industrial relations space, whether it be the underemployment of people, the underpayment of people, the lack of action on the gig economy or the lack of action on labour hire. We need a real plan to tackle this.