Monday, 15 June 2020
Fair Work Amendment (One in, All in) Bill 2020; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
On 24 April 2020—so, not that long ago—the Treasurer put out a media release, and it said this about the so-called one in, all in principle:
Once an employer decides to participate in the JobKeeper scheme and their eligible employees have agreed to be nominated by the employer, the employer must ensure that all of these eligible employees are covered by their participation in the scheme. This includes all eligible employees who are undertaking work for the employer or have been stood down. The employer cannot select which eligible employees will participate in the scheme.
During this pandemic we have seen many people lose their jobs, and we've seen Depression-era dole queues. We've seen the government bring forward the JobKeeper scheme, at the urging of many parties, like the Greens, saying that it is time to ensure that people get some wage guarantees. But what we've also found is that some employers are picking one or two of their employees to be covered and leaving other people behind. As the Treasurer noted as recently as April, that is not the point of the JobKeeper scheme. The point of the JobKeeper scheme is one in, all in. If an employer picks one person to be covered then they should all be covered.
The problem is that that is not what is happening at the moment. Not only have we got millions of workers excluded from the scheme because they're short-term casuals or temporary visa holders and not only are many now, like childcare workers, about to lose their subsidy because the government decided to end it early; at the moment, even where there are workers who are lucky enough to be eligible for the payment, there is no guarantee they will receive it, and they are currently not receiving it. The problem is that, despite the Treasurer's big words about one in, all in, there's no mechanism in any of the legislation that has been passed for an employee who's been excluded from the scheme to get their employer to take the scheme up. In other words, on our understanding and on our advice, somewhere in the order of 500,000 people across the country have complained and said: 'Hang on. My employer is bringing some employees in but not me. What can I do about it?' The answer at the moment is nothing, and we need to fix it. If their employer is entitled to get the JobKeeper payment but they are not getting it because they haven't registered, then there has to be a place employees can go to have this dispute resolved.
As I noted, the one in, all in principle requires that employers participating in the JobKeeper scheme must ensure that all eligible workers are nominated for the payment. When the government established the JobKeeper scheme, they left a gaping hole where support for workers should have been. The government denied workers the ability, the power and the recourse to challenge decisions that would exclude them from the payment. The jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission has been limited to cover only a small number of issues, and the ATO, the Australian tax office, is only responsible for the administration of the scheme and does not have the power to rule on eligibility disputes. Some workers have been advised that, if their employer is not including them, they should make a tip-off to the ATO if they have concerns, but privacy laws prevent the ATO from providing updates or outcomes as a result of tip-offs let alone helping resolve individual cases. This has created a very troubling situation—one that continues to leave many workers behind.
I wrote to the Treasurer expressing my concerns over a month ago. Questions have been asked during the Senate COVID-19 committee hearings. There have been reports in the media about well-known employers denying their workers access to JobKeeper. The government is aware of this issue, and I can only conclude that the government has decided not to act, that the government does not care if people who are eligible for JobKeeper aren't getting it. At the same time as the government is running wall-to-wall ads about how great JobKeeper is, it is turning a blind eye to hundreds of thousands of people being denied JobKeeper because they have no place to go if their employer decides not to give it to them.
That is why I am introducing this bill today. The Fair Work Amendment (One In, All In) Bill 2020 amends the Fair Work Act to give the Fair Work Commission the power to deal with disputes relating to workers' eligibility for the JobKeeper scheme. This bill will allow the Fair Work Commission to deal with disputes about whether a worker of an employer participating in the JobKeeper scheme is eligible for the JobKeeper payment. An application can be made by an employee, an employer, an employee organisation or an employer organisation, and the dispute can be dealt with by arbitration, mediation or conciliation. When dealing with disputes, the Fair Work Commission must give effect to the one in, all in principle, and it can tidy up those situations where an employer has chosen not to include all the employees, violating the one in, all in principle. Although the Greens have argued and will continue to argue that JobKeeper should be extended, including past its September date, this bill will end on the current proposed JobKeeper end date so there is no reason for the government to object to the bill. This is something the government should be fixing. This is a sensible proposal that won't result in the government incurring any additional costs other than what they have budgeted for and is completely consistent with what the government says is the principle behind its own legislation.
I want to say to the government that this is having real-world effects on people. One of my constituents in Melbourne, Maxima De La Rosa, has been denied access to the JobKeeper payment, despite being employed as a casual worker with her current employer since 2016. They claim Maxima's employment has not been regular and systematic because she has only worked 40 out of 52 weeks in the previous 12 months and is therefore ineligible. She contacted the ATO and the Fair Work Commission, who said they can't intervene because the government hasn't given them power to act.
She sent her employer information that is available on the Fair Work Commission's website supporting her argument that she meets the eligibility criteria, but her employer still refuses to nominate her for JobKeeper. She contacted my office, written to the Treasurer, worked with her union and gone to the media. What she hasn't been able to do is officially dispute her employer's decision. This is unacceptable. A government scheme that purports to save jobs and maintain a relationship between workers and employers currently has no way of resolving disputes. This bill will ensure that workers like Maxima can go to the Fair Work Commission and formally challenge their employer's decision to exclude them from the JobKeeper payment. This bill will give workers a voice to make sure they are receiving the financial support they're legally entitled to.
There is no excuse for not supporting this bill. All it does is take the Treasurer at his word that it's 'One in, all in', and give someone the power to resolve disputes about it. There are, I suspect, based on the advice we received, hundreds of thousands of people at the moment who are entitled to the government's JobKeeper payment but are not getting it because their employer has arbitrarily—or perhaps mistakenly—decided not to include them, but there is nowhere they can go to sort it out. This means less money to pay the rent and less money to buy food. It means less money to get by at a time when—as the Prime Minister keeps telling us—we're all in this together. That enough is reason to fix it.
The government is currently running wall-to-wall ads telling people the purpose of JobKeeper is to maintain the relationship between employers and employees and to support people through this difficult time. But the government is also excluding hundreds of thousands of people who are eligible for JobKeeper simply because they have no way to hold the government to its word and enforce the 'one in, all in' principle. Between March and April this year, people who began, left or lost a job increased over ninefold, up to 847 per cent. People who worked less almost quadrupled to 286 per cent. As we hurtle towards the September cliff, where people will find themselves in strife, the government should at least ensure that its own principle of 'one in, all in' is complied with and people have a place to go.